NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Improving K-12 System Could Produce More College Graduates

June 17, 2015

Many people are skeptical of the "college for all" movement, but everyone should be behind the "college for more" movement. Among other reasons, that is because completing college brings a strong economic payoff, particularly for young people growing up in poverty. According to Pew's Pursuing the American Dream, such individuals are almost five times likelier to escape the lowest income quintile as adults if they obtain a bachelor's degree.

There is strong evidence that college adds real value in terms of students' skills, knowledge and career preparation, value that translates into higher earnings.

Back in 1992, 40 percent of twelfth graders were "college-prepared" in reading, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Yet eight years later, just 29 percent of Americans ages 25-29 had obtained at least a bachelor's degree. Most of the gap is lost potential — young people who were academically prepared for college but either did not go or did not finish.

Note what happened by the high school class of 2005. Thirty-five percent of twelfth graders were prepared for college in reading; eight years later, 34 percent of their age cohort had completed a college degree. We closed the gap between college readiness and college attainment. But it also implies that if we want to increase college attainment, we need to make progress on college readiness.

But until we start making significant progress at the K-12 level — and get many more students to the college-ready level before they land on campus — our dreams for significantly boosting the college completion numbers seem certain to be dashed. "Free" community college, co-requisite course-taking, additional student supports, etc. — those may or may not help at the margins. But the big potential still lies in improving our elementary and secondary education system.

Source: Michael J. Petrilli, "Want More College Graduates? Improve our K-12 System," EducationNext, June 15, 2015. 


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