Ready for What? How Multiple Graduation Pathways Do – and Do Not – Signal Readiness for College and Career

Postsecondary education is vital to thrive, not just survive. Eighty percent of good-paying jobs require postsecondary education, and 56 percent require a bachelor’s degree or higher. While the nation’s high school graduation rate has reached an all-time high of 85 percent, students are insufficiently prepared for postsecondary education and the workforce. About 70 percent of entering students at public two-year colleges require remediation to master academic content they should have learned in high school, including nearly 80 percent of Black students, 75 percent of Latino students, and 64 percent of White students. 

During the past several years, policymakers have updated high school graduation requirements to increase students’ preparation for postsecondary education and the workforce. At the same time, they have recognized that increases in the rigor of these requirements may require greater flexibility in how students demonstrate that they are prepared for postsecondary opportunities. 

A new report from Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed), titled, “Ready for What? How Multiple Graduation Pathways Do – and Do Not – Signal Readiness for College and Career”  provides state policymakers and advocates with an analysis of the various graduation pathways currently in effect. It also offers recommendations to help lawmakers and others focus graduation pathway policies on equity and excellence. 

The analysis finds that twenty-nine states offer multiple pathways to a high school diploma, providing students with options regarding the high school experiences they will have and, often, the postsecondary experiences for which they will be prepared. Multiple options and choices among graduation pathways, however, also can create confusion and inequities for students and families. In many states, multiple graduation pathways have created a bifurcated system of diploma requirements, forcing students into decisions that may limit their choices for life after high school—sometimes without students even realizing these decisions would have such a long-lasting impact. Rather than opening doors to opportunity beyond high school, some pathways may close the door to postsecondary options. For example, students in thirteen states choose between a college-preparatory pathway and a career pathway—a choice that may limit the postsecondary options available to them.

As policymakers continue to use high school graduation requirements as a mechanism to increase college and career readiness, in this report, All4Ed offers state leaders policy considerations for graduation pathways that balance rigor, quality, and equitable access and opportunity.

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