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K-12 Students' College Readiness Insights

Every K-12 school leader has his or her own definition of student success. But ensuring students are properly prepared for college or a career after high school is at the top of everyone’s list.

Unfortunately, a growing body of research suggests that students leave high school increasingly unprepared for the rigors of post-secondary education or without the vital skills necessary to be successful in the workforce.

A national survey conducted by the nonprofit YouthTruth found that less than half (45%) of surveyed students felt positively about their college and career readiness. At K12 Insight, our research has shown similar misgivings among k-12 students.

Each year, K12 Insight conducts surveys around senior exit, college & career readiness, and student engagement. These surveys are often supplemented by focus groups to better understand student perceptions around key topics, including college and career preparedness. This research has consistently identified two key trends:

  1. Today’s middle and high school students want their teachers to be more explicit and intentional in explaining the “why” behind what they are learning and how the information applies in real-life situations.  
  2. Students want more exposure to non-academic life skills like time and stress management, responsible use of social media, overcoming setbacks, filing taxes, writing cover letters and resumes, and pursuing financial aid support.

The reasons behind student concerns around academic relevance and preparation often go beyond the classroom to include environmental, economic, and social-emotional factors that students face in their daily lives. That means solutions for building stronger student preparedness must also go beyond academics.

One of the foundational pillars for both k-12 districts and higher ed institutions is to understand student needs, which requires more open and honest conversations with students and parents. By creating systems to better listen to and address student and family concerns, districts will be in a better position to improve student preparedness.

Beyond school surveys, K12 Insight’s community engagement and customer experience solution, Let’s Talk! is helping k-12 districts (and higher ed institutions) foster important dialogues with students and parents.

Nearly a quarter of our district partners use this solution to promote conversations around college and career readiness. This can range from managing enrollment inquiries for specific campuses that specialize in certain academic or career disciplines, seeking feedback from students on areas of interest for future programming, highlighting local college programming or employment opportunities, or making school resources for career and college placement more visible.  In each of these initiatives, the most successful school leaders emphasize a strong customer experience that makes it easy for students and parents to engage with the district, respond in a timely and relevant manner, and follow up to confirm the inquiry has been answered to their satisfaction.

Of the hundreds of thousands of dialogues our Let’s Talk! tool has received over the years, one of my favorites is between a student and her school district regarding a blacklisted website the student wanted to access for a music course. The district responded within a few school days by providing network access to the site and closing the dialogue with (I’m paraphrasing here):

“We have heard you and corrected the issue on our end.  Please use this site responsibly and to your greatest advantage. And, let us know if we can assist you further in pursuing success in both music and school.”

This conversation between a student and her school district is a great example of how schools can give students a place to ask important questions, respond in a timely manner, and encourage them to pursue a passion. The question now for education leaders is: How do we do this at scale?

Here are a few recommendations based on our work with k-12 districts and higher education institutions:

  1. K-12 districts should give students more access to life skills development in high school (the emergence and focus on social-emotional learning is a good example of this).  
  2. K-12 districts and local colleges should create partnerships to provide more opportunities for students to experience campus life, courses, and programming during their high school years.
  3. Teachers should provide more real-world context to the lessons they are providing. And, districts should provide opportunities to continue the development of students’ career-oriented skills through partnerships with local community colleges that leverage college teaching staff and  other programs to give students vital access to real-world challenges and situations. Companies like Nepris can help with these initiatives.  

In an age where we are teaching students to be global, responsible, and collaborative citizens, it is our responsibility to model the way. Elementary, secondary, and post-secondary educators should improve the way they collaborate and communicate to ensure our students are acquiring the skills they need, understanding why those skills are vital to their success, and providing important opportunities to apply them to further their personal and professional goals.

If college and career readiness is a concern for your K-12 district or higher education institution, I’d love to explore how K12 Insight can help. You can reach me at gregg.levin@k12insight.com. 

This story was originally published in the May edition of Perspectives, published by the Alliance for Community College Excellence in Practice at Ferris State University.