Life after high school graduation doesn't follow one single, narrow path. Thus, educators are responsible for ensuring the high school journey prepares students for graduation and beyond-be it at a four-year university, trade school, two-year college and even the workforce.

Today, high school graduation is more than a goal; it's a requisite for any of the aforementioned future endeavors. Yet, two-fifths of high school students graduate prepared neither for traditional college nor for career training, according to a study by Johns Hopkins University and the University of Arizona. It's imperative that every student be prepared for and have the choice to attend college or pursue other types of post-high school achievements.1 To do so, academic institutions must re-imagine high school as a tool to prepare all students for both college and careers. Being career-ready and college-ready should not be an either/or proposition-every student should have the end goal of both in mind.

It Starts With High School Completion

In today's competitive job market, the access to higher education earned by attaining high school thereby leads to better job opportunities. Opportunities that can be easily cut short without the proper preparation for the future. A high school diploma, without college and career readiness, is nothing more than a piece of paper. According to a study reported in the Washington Post, one-third of high school students complete the modern college-preparatory track and another one-quarter graduate from career-preparatory programs. The remaining high school population, an estimated 40 percent, do neither. The report adds that this "virtual underclass of students," finish high school with a transcript filled with general education courses and few prospects for success.1

Primarily for those struggling to complete high school, the standard curriculum fails to asses the needs to fully prepare students for the next stage in life,2 often leading to non-completion. Because the road to success doesn't always follow the traditional pathway, a traditional school curriculum can leave many students behind. Instead, blended learning opportunities that present non-traditional students with opportunities for a varied learning environment have a better opportunity to not only complete high school, but also excel in future academic or career endeavors.

College Ready

Every year in the United States, nearly 60 percent of first-year college students discover that, despite being fully eligible to attend college, they are not ready for postsecondary studies,3 lacking a number of college requisites that vary from financial, emotional and intellectual readiness. To help students prepare themselves in all these aspects, one school is changing their strategy. The Huffington Post reports that The Corbett High School in Oregon recently set a new requirement for graduation: every student must get accepted to a college or trade school. The students are not obligated to attend the school to which they are accepted -- the goal is for them to learn first-hand what it takes to advance their education and gain that "edge." Preparation meets opportunity.4 

Career Ready

For educators to fully realize the different long-term potentials of each student, it's essential to think outside the traditional post-high school plan. A great starting point is helping students choose a career path that isn't lofty, but still stable with room for growth. Let them know if they don't start out in their dream job it's ok, because it's not where you start, it's where you progress to, and a continued education is a large part of progression.

In terms of education, it's important to consider the fact that many high school graduates might opt for skipping higher ed for a job opportunity. With that in mind, helping them realize that education can be combined with career aspirations and promote growth opportunities is critical. For example, with an increased need for skilled workers in the U.S. workforce, (as many as 600,000 well-paying jobs are going unfilled due to a lack of qualified applicants according to the Manufacturing Institute),5 trade schools are an excellent way to enter the workforce. Community colleges and trade schools quickly and directly teach the core skills needed for individuals to land a job, and they often have close ties to the community, which gives them the unique opportunity to develop programs that meet local needs.4

Right now, the bottom line for students is to think ahead and get the specific skills that will make them stand out from the crowd. If work comes first after high school, ensure your students know that the path of lifelong learning can encourage employees to continue their education and certification to advance them in their careers and become even more attractive for future employers.4 Career ready and college ready go hand-in-hand, regardless of the path chosen after graduation.

Resources: (1) Study: Two-Fifths of High School Graduates are Unprepared for College or the Workforce (2) Preparing High School Students for Successful Transitions to Postsecondary Education and Employment (3) Beyond the Rhetoric: Improving College Readiness Through Coherent State Policy (4) Preparation Meets Opportunity: A Model in Successful Workforce Readiness (5) Boiling Point? The Skills Gap in U.S. Manufacturing