Middle School Provides Clues on College Success; Americans Say College Grads Not Ready for Workforce

Summing up a new national Gallup poll, the analysis indicated that “If higher education was the auto industry, it would be forced to recall a quarter of all its graduates.”  But recent research also suggests that there are some early indicators that provide clues to the likelihood of college success – as early as middle school. The latest Gallup survey found that 96 percent of Americans say it is "somewhat" or "very" important for adults in the country to have a degree or certificate beyond high school. But the fourth annual Gallup-Lumina Foundation poll also indicated that only 13 percent of Americans strongly agree college graduates in this country are well-prepared for success in the workplace. That's down from 14 percent two years ago and 19 percent three years ago. The analysis described it as a "no confidence" vote in college graduates' work readiness.beaker

Readiness for college, as any college administrator or faculty member will tell you, impacts college success, and ultimately workforce readiness.  Connecticut is among the states that have taken steps to better align high school and college, and adjust remedial programs to save students time and money, as well as improving their chances to bridge the academic gaps in their preparation prior to college.

Interestingly – or perhaps alarmingly - Americans with college degrees are much less likely to strongly agree college grads are ready for the workforce than Americans without college degrees – 6 percent vs. 18 percent, respectively.  As the Gallup analysts point out, the survey found that “those of us who earned a coveted college degree have even less confidence than the rest of us that college grads are well-prepared for success in the workplace.”

A previous Gallup survey found that 1 in 4 college graduates missed the mark on all six critical emotional support and experiential elements of their student experience. These graduates' outcomes -- on measures such as their workplace engagement and overall well-being -- show they fail to thrive in their careers and lives.

New research by Matt Gaertner and Katie McClarty of Pearson’s Research & Innovation Network recently combined rich student- and school-level data to evaluate whether more information makes for more accurate college-readiness predictions.

The researchers used data from more than 11,000 students in the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS) and 140 middle school variables to create six factors: achievement, behavior, motivation, social engagement, family circumstances and school characteristics. They then used these middle school factors to predict college readiness and college outcomes, the American Association of Community Colleges website reports.

They found some interesting results:

  • With respect to college readiness, all six factors were valuable predictors. Academic achievement was the strongest predictor (accounting for 17 percent of the variation in college readiness), but motivation (15 percent) and behavior (14 percent) followed closely. Together, they found, motivation and behavior contribute more to college readiness than achievement on its own.
  • With respect to college success, these six middle school factors predict college grades (cumulative GPA) and graduation better than the ACT or the SAT. In fact, using the six factors nearly doubles the ability to predict college graduation, compared with using test scores alone. Most notably, these predictions arrive in eighth grade — three years before the SAT or the ACT.

The results of this study have recently been published in Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice.cover

Research has long documented the importance of instilling a college-going culture starting in the middle grades, if not earlier, Pearson Research & Innovation Network points out.  According to ACT’s 2008 report, “The Forgotten Middle” the level of achievement that students attain by eighth grade has a larger impact on their college and career readiness than anything that happens academically in high school.

The Connecticut State Board of Education, in a draft report based on an Ad Hoc committee review, indicated that “it became clear that the middle school had a role to play in ensuring success for all students. Recent research of major urban school districts has identified that students who are at risk for completing high school begin to demonstrate these factors at about Grade 6.”

Beginning with the 2012 school year, a state law has required that each Connecticut student have a “Student Success Plan,” which begins in the 6th grade and continues through high school, to provide the student support and assistance in setting goals for social, emotional, physical and academic growth, meeting rigorous high school expectations, and exploring postsecondary education and career interests, according to the State Board of Education website.