If you talk to a class of ninth graders, nearly all will say they want to go to college. But nationwide, only 18 percent will earn a two-year college degree within three years of leaving high school, or a four-year degree within six years. Only 68 percent of students who start high school earn a diploma, says a study of K-16 success rates by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. The study uses data from the National Center for Education Statistics. About 59 percent of graduates — 40 percent of the original ninth grade class — go directly from high school to college. By sophomore year, one third have dropped out, leaving 27 percent of the original ninth graders still enrolled.
A graph shows Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Iowa have the highest K-16 graduation rates at 28 to 29 percent, while Nevada and New Mexico rank at the bottom with a 10 percent college completion rate. The graph also shows that some states lose a huge number of students as high school drop-outs, while others do better at getting students through high school but lose them at later stages from the college pipeline. In New Jersey, 90 percent of students earn a high school diploma, but the college drop-out rate is very high, suggesting many of those high school grads aren’t prepared for higher education.
Of course, the assumption of all this is that the ideal is to send every student straight from high school to college to a degree. That’s not the best path for everyone. And the National Center doesn’t consider that if everyone gets a college diploma, the value of a diploma will decline even more than it already has.
However, I think we need to look seriously at the huge gap between students’ ambitions and reality. In New York, 43 percent of students who start high school leave without a diploma. What’s a realistic path for these kids? And let’s explain to students that there’s no point going to college if you don’t have the skills or the drive to pass classes once you get there.