Forget College Readiness! Let’s Try Life Readiness!

What does college readiness mean, and more importantly, how do college readiness and life readiness compare to each other?

Let’s do some math and some honest, reflective analysis of the data.

An article last month in Ed Week (Dec 12, 2012) made me consider college vs life readiness in a new way. Granted, the story and data from the McKenzie Center for Government were for 25 countries, not just the US. so of course, the proverbial grain of salt must be taken into account. But I was confronted with some interesting ideas. First was a graph that showed 72% of educators felt that HS graduates were “adequately prepared” for college. That was way out of whack with what both “employers” and “youth” thought. They pegged it at 42% and 45% respectively. Educators pat themselves on the back, but both employers and kids are scratching their head going “Really?”

In the US, only 73% of our kids graduate from high school. Of those, only 56% went right into college. This was according to the National Center for Higher Ed Management Systems (NCHEMS) Did you hear that? Only 56% of 73%!! Even more interesting, the short article went on to report that of those who did enroll, 60% of them wanted “on-the-job training and hands-on job skills” but fewer than half had courses that met those goals.

OK, so now we have a significant number of kids who never make it to college — even if they pass high school, then most of them get an education that does not match their goals. After that, once they graduate from college (and in 2009 in the US only 58% do according to the National Center for Education Statistics. 25-40% report not getting a first job related to their college major! So I guess we can assume that only 60-75% of kids end up with a first job doing what they had spent vast amounts of time and money to do. And can you figure out what percent of high school grads get a first job related to their college major? Do the math!

So what does this say to us about the “college readiness” bandwagon? Well, we know that educators think it’s a great thing and that they are doing a relatively good job of preparing kids for it. And you can rest assured there are lots of big bucks associated with the efforts to define it, align the new CCSS with it, develop assessments that are in turn aligned, etc. Is it a movement whose primary outcome is to benefit the education establishment?

I am very well acquainted with the data correlating education attainment and income, so there’s a part of me that desperately wants to hold onto the notion that going to college is always the best thing. But I also believe that our duty is to make sure kids are ready to take their next step in life. Does the next step have to be college for everyone? In the 21st C we should be able to look at our preparation challenge more broadly, personally and filled with many more opportunities! I’m also starting to believe that Sugata Mitra might be right when he asserts in Beyond the Hole in the Wall: “we are entering a world in which it will be difficult, maybe impossible, to determine whether a person is educated or not. . . Is formal education, as we know it, an outdated idea?”

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