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Recent high school graduates optimistic about value of college

August 30, 2011 |  2:52 pm

Photo: Students celebrate during graduation ceremonies at North Hollywood High School in June. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times Despite the rising costs of a college education, most recent high school graduates say that earning a college degree is worth the time and money, and most are optimistic that they and their peers will find good jobs and careers.

That is the good news from a national survey of 1,500 graduates from the class of 2010 that was released Tuesday by the College Board, the nonprofit association that runs the SAT and Advanced Placement tests.

The inaugural survey, One Year Out, sought to mine perspectives about the weaknesses and strengths of the nation’s education system from a group rarely heard from in that national debate. The survey was conducted by Hart Research Associates between July and August of this year. Twelve percent of the respondents were from California.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the rancor over issues of testing, graduation and college readiness, 66% said their high school did a good job of preparing them for college, while 58% said they were adequately prepared for the workplace. Only about half said their school did a good job of preparing them for both college and work.

A majority -- 69% -- said requirements for graduating from high school, including tests and courses, were easy. Thirty-seven percent said such requirements should be tougher.

Overall, 82% of recent graduates said they were very or somewhat satisfied with their high school experience, a percentage that was fairly consistent among those who went on to a four-year college, a two-year college or did not enroll in any college.

Still, given the chance, most students said they would change something about their high school experience, including 44% who said they wished they had taken different courses such as more intensive math, science and writing.

“These candid assessments provide critical firsthand insight into how high schools serve -- and in some ways shortchange -- their graduates,” College Board president Gaston Caperton said in a statement. “One Year Out is a call to action, straight from the class of 2010.”

Many students also said their high school should have done a better job of teaching them financial skills, writing resumes, conducting a job interview and finding financial aid.

“Preparing students for life after high school was something that I wish would have been further stressed,” one respondent said. “My school did an excellent job of preparing kids for college and getting them to actively look for the right college, but that’s it. There was no emphasis on all the hardships that would come alongside that, such as maintaining a job profitable enough to provide for college tuition, and absolutely no light was shed on the possibility of internships or apartments.”

At a time when state funding cuts have forced most of the nation’s colleges -- including the  University of California, Cal State and community colleges -- to boost tuition and fees, the biggest challenge for those enrolled in college was affordability, the survey showed. Forty percent of those who described their families as affluent said affordability was a challenge.

“Clearly, students are hearing by and large that college is important,”  College Board senior vice president Trevor Packer said during a teleconference. “But students are also saying the cost is a huge challenge for us and rigor in college is a challenge. One question is how can we point them earlier in the direction of the coursework they need so that college is not a system-shock.”

Despite uncertain times, graduates are surprisingly optimistic, with about 66% convinced that people their age will find jobs and careers.

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-- Carla Rivera

Photo: Students celebrate during graduation ceremonies at North Hollywood High School in June. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

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