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Beyond Commencement: What Does a High School Diploma Mean?

Apr 5, 2016
In a few weeks, young people across the country will be walking the stage to receive their high school diplomas. The good news is that an all-time high number of students will be graduating. The bad news is that only a very small percentage of them will have taken a full college- and career-prep curriculum on their way to commencement. 
These are among the findings of Meandering Toward Graduation: Transcript Outcomes of High School Graduates, a new report out this week from Ed Trust. Researchers Marni Bromberg and Christina Theokas analyzed the most recent national database of high school transcripts to learn about the experiences and preparation of America’s graduates. They grouped high school graduates into four categories based on the curriculum they completed: college-prep, career-prep, college- and career-prep or no cohesive curriculum. They found:
  • Almost a third of graduates completed a college-ready sequence alone.
  • Just over one in 10 graduates completed a career curriculum, but not a college curriculum.
  • Just 8 percent of graduates completed a full college- and career-prep curriculum.
  • One in seven graduates who did complete a college, career or combined curriculum did not demonstrate mastery of that curriculum.
  • Nearly half of graduates did not complete a college- or a career-ready course sequence at all.
Employers and colleges know all too well what these numbers add up to: More remediation on the job and in higher education. Recent graduates find themselves in remedial post-secondary courses, studying what they should have learned in high school. And employers find themselves meeting high school graduates who lack the basic foundational skills needed to start in entry-level positions. 
As Ed Trust rightly points out, college and career readiness is still a new expectation – something that we in the business community need to keep in mind, since we have been working on it for what feels like a long time. Ed Trust highlights school- and district- based levers that educators and others can use to make high school a pathway to students’ future goals, rather than treating a high school diploma as the end goal. 
As we near graduation season, it is absolutely fitting to congratulate our graduates for what they have accomplished. But we have a lot of work to do to make sure they are truly ready for what comes next.