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Key Findings: College and Career Readiness in Context


 College and Career Readiness in Context

By Leslie Santee Siskin



Over the past decade, New York City has made real progress in increasing high school graduation rates. Approximately 65% of students graduated on time in 2012, reflecting a clear increase since the early 2000’s. But educators, policymakers, and philanthropic leaders across the nation have now turned their attention to an even more ambitious goal: college and career readiness for every public school student. This is a huge sea change in New York and elsewhere.

Without a doubt, it’s an enormous undertaking in New York and nationally. Here in New York City, overall, only 29% of students who had entered high school four years before met the state’s college readiness benchmarks in 2012. And of those who went on to enroll in a community college—a very common destination for NYC graduates—just 20% received an associate’s degree in four years.

More than $2 billion has been invested in education during Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure from private donations, spurring many of the innovations that helped raise the city’s graduation rate and advance college and career readiness. Philanthropy has helped fund a range of improvements, from the massive shift to Common Core standards across the city to innovative model schools. However, the challenges of designing new policies and programs that could accomplish the goal that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college and careers is tremendous and will take time and systemic changes to realize. 

The new goal of college and career readiness for all requires a focus not on ‘beating the odds’ in a few schools or with a few students, but changing the odds for all students. With critical help from philanthropy, the city has led on educational reforms that increased graduation rates and can lead the way again on the long-term systemic change of expectations and results for college and career readiness.

Acknowledge and Understand the Starting Points

Educators often speak of a college “pipeline.” But, in a large and complex system like New York City, that common ‘pipeline’ image is misleading: all students do not start at the same point, and they do not follow the same path along the way.

  • The city’s schools enroll 1.1 million students (more than many states) who come from 197 countries, speaking almost as many (185) languages—42% do not speak English at home
  • Some students live in multimillion-dollar apartments, while others live in public housing projects. Almost 70,000 students were homeless at some time during the 2011-2012 school year
  • During the 2011-2012 school year, NYC’s student population was 40.5% Hispanic, 27.7% black, 16.6% Asian/American Indian, and 15.2% white

There are clear disparities along economic and racial lines

  • In some (poor) neighborhoods, fewer than 10% of the class of 2011 met the college prep benchmarks; in other more affluent sections, 79% did
  • Only 8% of black and 11% of Hispanic young men reached the aspirational college readiness benchmarks set by the State, contrasted with 48% of Asian and 40% of white young men

College and Career Readiness for All: Not Just Academics and Not Just Students

Extend measures and metrics both up and down the school system, to identify where students are and where they need to be from pre-kindergarten through high school graduation – building better indicators of whether students are on-track for college based on academic, social, and practical preparation.

Expand definitions of college readiness to more than academics, including information about colleges, application processes, and financial aid and incorporating characteristics like conscientiousness or grit, academic tenacity, paying attention, study skills, teamwork, and problem solving.

Enlarge our understanding of what it takes to get there not only in terms of student readiness, but also the role of classrooms and schools in terms of creating a ‘college-going culture’ that sets expectations and provides the college preparatory curriculum and practical information necessary for enrollment and success.

Engage partners to create pathways to readiness for college and career – including counseling, mentoring, and technical skills.


The next Mayoral Administration will have the opportunity to work with philanthropic organizations to extend, expand, enlarge, and engage to promote college and career readiness for New York City’s public school students.