40% of U.S. High School Graduates Unfit For College or Work

U.S. employers are saying that they really want to hire but they’re having trouble finding qualified workers, according to a Dec. 13 article in Financial Times.
Economists have something called the Beveridge curve to figure out whether unemployment is cyclical or structural. The curve measures the relationship between unemployment and the job vacancy rate. In our current Great Recession, job vacancies have risen by 35% since their trough in June 2009 – but the unemployment rate has remained stubbornly high. This suggests that although there are jobs, people are not filling them because they lack the requisite skills.
Which brings us to a new study that found over 40% of America’s high school graduates are neither prepared for college nor the workforce.

Napp Nazworth reports for Christian Post, Dec. 15, 2011, that the study titled “The Underserved Third: How Our Educational Structures Populate an Educational Underclass” was published in the Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk. Regina Deil-Amen and Stefanie DeLuca are the authors.
The study found that about one-third of U.S. high school students are taking classes to prepare for college, and only one-fourth are taking vocational education courses to prepare them to enter the workforce directly after graduation. The rest of the students, over 40%, do neither and so are prepared for neither college nor work. In academic jargon-speak, the authors describe this last group of students as “structurally positioned to transition out of school destined to fail to access labor market rewards.”
Those are also the students who are expected to go to college despite not being prepared for college-level work. And so they populate remedial classes at colleges and community colleges, and account for why only a quarter of those who attend any type of college actually will graduate with a bachelor’s degree.
Deil-Amen and DeLuca maintain that the emphasis on everyone getting a college education is misplaced. Only 30% of the workforce requires postsecondary education of some sort. At the same time, the number of jobs requiring only a high school diploma is expected to increase. One-fourth of the top 30 jobs that are expected to see the largest growth will not require college.
This means that a large number of students are going to college and failing when, instead, they could have directly entered the labor market after graduating high school.
“Rather than blindly advocating bachelor’s degrees as the only valuable option and the cure for all social ills, it might be wise to seek broader societal solutions that extend beyond more of the same push for higher education as a route to individual mobility,” Deil-Amen and DeLuca write.
The report recommends that high school students should be given the rigor of college preparatory classes along with the skills needed to enter the workforce with only a high school diploma. This way, students who do not wish to enter college will be aware of, and prepared to, access careers that do not require post-secondary education.
Nice work, teachers’ union! Great job you’re doing! [sarcasm alert]

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ZorroDr. EowynAlice WolfjoandarcAnonymous Recent comment authors
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My nieces have had unqualified teachers : one was using answers in back of book because she didn’t know how to do problems…another teacher was in her 80’s and could barely stay awake. One teacher thought “teaching” meant showing the Beatles movie, can’t remember title, I think “Yellow Submarine” movie, to 2nd grade class. And you can’t get rid of bad teachers – union goons protect them to the end.
Bad for kids and good teachers.


“The report recommends that high school students should be given the rigor of college preparatory classes along with the skills needed to enter the workforce with only a high school diploma.” Exactly!


Thank you, Dr.Eowyn, for this most sad, but informative post. Frankly, some of the writing I have read by young people I know is remarkably bad that it makes me cringe! Another thing I find noteworthy, is that children are requiring their parents to help them with their homework. I had more homework in my Catholic education, grades one through twelve, than I ever had in college! When I was a child, I did not ask my parents or my siblings to help me with my homework. Rarely, I would ask my father for help in math, mainly about conceptual… Read more »


Witness Occupy Wall Street with it’s scads of folk with “studies” degrees, $60,000 in student debt and unrealistic job expectations, who attribute the Marxist ideas they advocate to “some guy”… ignorant, don’t know how to work, entitled.

Alice Wolf

FDR took a generation and started youth training camps, where the young men were trained in forestry, in road and bridge building, and in many other areas including engineering work, and not only did they gain confidence in themselves they were prepared to enter into a workforce where their reputation went before them, and employers were more likely to employ someone who had been in one of these camps, because they mostly had gotten real good attitudes. Of course there were those who found it boring and dropped out but generally this was the foundation of the American working class… Read more »


Eowyn, thank you for reminding us about Gingrich’s lack of conservatism.
It is so frustrating to not have a sane and purist Conservative running for POTUS.