Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence

Find us on Facebook

Preparing Our Students for the Economy of Today and the Future: Ensuring a Meaningful High School Diploma

By now everyone knows and widely accepts that a postsecondary degree or certificate is important for future success. Projections for Kentucky show that 62% of jobs by 2020 will require some level of postsecondary education. And, given the speed of technological advancement resulting in changes to our economy, we know, intuitively, we are preparing our young people for a world most of us can’t even imagine. In fact, some estimates show that 65% of children in elementary school now will work in jobs that don’t even exist today.
How do we ensure a high school diploma that better prepares our young people to be full participants in the economy today – and to be part of designing the economy of the future?
Let’s start with the economy of today.  In 2006, Kentucky increased minimum high school graduation requirements to ensure all students follow a college preparatory path. In 2010, Kentucky added career preparation as a path to indicate readiness.  While we’ve certainly increased the percent of students deemed prepared in the last decade, only 68.8 percent of graduates were “ready” in 2016 (or 59 percent of the incoming freshman 4 years earlier if we account for dropouts).  Here’s a snapshot of what that looks like for different groups of students:

Of these graduates, only 53.5 percent went on for postsecondary education and only 22.1 percent completed 30 hours of credit in their first year (indicating likely on-track graduation). These numbers, while only including students in Kentucky colleges and not those who leave the state, demonstrate a strong need to improve student readiness.  Further, Kentucky’s current postsecondary attainment rate is 45 percent as of 2016, far from meeting the demand of 62 percent by 2020.
But, academic content knowledge, indicated through college readiness measures, is just one piece of the puzzle. If we want to ensure a high school diploma that truly prepares our young people for the demands they will begin to face as they transition to college, career and life in an ever-changing future, there are other pieces to consider – like the development of skills and competencies relevant for the world of work.
Tony Wagner, Senior Research Fellow at the Learning Policy Institute, has documented seven skills needed for future success (or for “survival” as he puts it). Based on his work with national and international business leaders, the seven competencies include:

  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
  • Agility and adaptability
  • Initiative and entrepreneurship
  • Effective oral and written communication
  • Accessing and analyzing information
  • Curiosity and imagination

These are further confirmed by recent surveys of business leaders, captured by the American Association of Colleges and Universities:

We see a shift in skill priorities in just 5 short years, with critical thinking and creativity rising to the top 3 respectively, followed by complex problem solving which has remained in the #1 spot, as documented by the World Economic Forum.

It’s not enough to hand our students diplomas that lack the evidence of academic mastery they will need to attain degrees and certificates necessary to market themselves in the economy. We must also provide our students diplomas indicative of the development of skills they will need as they begin to take the lead, shaping the economy of the future.
The conversation Kentucky is having at this very moment regarding minimum high school graduation requirements is critical. It will shape the diplomas our students will receive for the foreseeable future. Ensuring a meaningful high school diploma is the right conversation at the right time, and it simply can’t wait.
However, it is our collective responsibility to ensure that the new requirements result in greater postsecondary attainment for more students in all student groups AND that quality is embedded within those requirements. Kentucky’s diploma should unequivocally signal that every one of our young people has had the opportunity, and been provided the support, to master foundational academic content and begin to develop the skills they will need to fully participate in the economy of the future.
Additional blogs on this topic will explore details of the proposed minimum high school graduation requirements. In addition, our webpage on Ensuring a Meaningful High School Diploma will provide resources as well as document this process and the outcomes for students in the coming years.
Join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #KYDiploma or email the Prichard Committee your thoughts on how to ensure that every Kentucky student receives a meaningful high school diploma.