Tracking the ‘Career’ in College and Career Ready

August 27, 2014
As I mentioned last week, I have been working with the US Chamber of Commerce collecting statistics on the performance of the American education system for the forthcoming publication “Leaders and Laggards.” (FYI, the event page for the launch of the report is here. Come join us, it’ll be a great time!)
Given that “Leaders and Laggards“ is generally geared toward a business audience, and that one of the most popular reforms of the moment (the Common Core standards) claim “College and Career Readiness” as their ultimate goal, I thought that finding some information about the career preparedness of American students would be interesting.
If you’re looking for data on college preparedness, the education world is lousy with it. ACT/SAT scores, remediation rates, AP scores, graduation rates, it’s all there for your perusal. But, if you’re looking for the career bit of “College and Career” you’re out of luck. Quite frankly, there is a dearth of information available on how well our schools prepare students for careers.
If we use some crude numbers—the Current Population Survey’s estimate of the college enrollment rate of high school graduates (65.9%), and the size of the class of 2014 (3.4 million)— we find at least 1.1 million students from our most recent cohort of graduates out looking for work.
Did they graduate with the skills necessary to succeed in the job market? Did some states, districts, schools, or programs do a superior job preparing these students than others? Are there promising programs that are helping students attain job skills?
Without systematic data measuring career readiness, it is exceedingly hard to answer those questions.
There are a few tools out there to try and measure career readiness. ACT offers a National Career Readiness Certificate that measures “soft skills” like work discipline, teamwork, customer service skills, and managerial potential. Economists like Kirabo Jackson have used proxies like student absences, suspensions, on-time grade progression, high school completion, and SAT taking as measures of “non-cognitive” skills that have shown a correlation with positive outcomes later in life. But it’s also possible that there are other skills that are necessary that we should be measuring to know if our schools are imparting them.

In comparison to the mountain of academic measures of college readiness, the amount of information available on career readiness is troubling. Given the data out there (or lack thereof!), initiatives like Common Core give us the opportunity to rally efforts to improve career readiness data. Policymakers should jump at this opportunity to help states truly assess just how well they are preparing students for life after high school and/or college.

Michael McShane is Research Fellow for Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute.
This post was originally published on the AEIdeas blog.