Education Commissioner Terry Holliday

Education Commissioner Terry Holliday

Over the past few weeks, several reports have spurred me to consider the outlook for our most recent graduating class of Kentucky students.

Readers should consider how they would feel if they had a child or relative in the Class of 2010 who recently graduated from a Kentucky high school.

  • For every 1,000 9th- graders who entered high school in the 2006-07 school year, only 740 actually graduated in 2010.
  • Of the 740 who graduated, 670 indicated they would attend two- or four-year postsecondary institutions; however, only 592 will actually attend a postsecondary institution.
  • Of the 592, 112 will attend two-year colleges, and only 18 of the 112 will be college-ready (no remediation courses).
  • Of the 480 graduates who will attend four-year colleges, only 237 will be college-ready (no remediation courses).
  • Of the 112 graduates attending two-year colleges, only 67 will return for the second year of school.
  • Of the 480 attending four-year colleges, only 340 will return for the second year.
  • Of the 112 attending two-year colleges, only 26 will graduate within three years with a degree.
  • Of the 480 attending four-year colleges, only 225 will graduate within six years.

In summary, of the 1,000 high school freshmen from 2006-07 who entered with dreams  of college and career, only 251 will achieve their dream of a two- or four-year degree within three or six years of graduation from high school. What will happen to the other 749?

If Kentucky demographics can predict the future, then 80 will not have a high school diploma; 370 will have a high school diploma but no college credits; 210 will have a high school diploma and some college; and 90 will have a GED by the time they reach age 34.

In years past, this scenario may not have concerned parents; however, a report from the Center on Education and Workforce at Georgetown University predicts 63 percent of jobs in 2018 will require a two- or four-year postsecondary degree, and more than 80 percent of jobs will require postsecondary degrees and/or technical training. So, it appears that for Kentucky to have a competitive employment and strong economy, about 800 of the 1,000 graduates really need postsecondary and/or technical training beyond high school.

However, we are projecting that only 251 will achieve the two- or four-year degree, and 210 will have some training beyond high school, for a total of 461 students possibly ready for 800 jobs. Where will employers get the other 339 employees? As I talk to employers now, they tell me they are either importing the employees or have to provide significant training and education to prospective employees at a high cost that impacts the competitive ability of the business.

As much of a concern should be the remaining 539 students who do not have two- or four-year degrees and/or some training beyond high school. More than 200 of them will settle for low-skill and low-wage jobs that do not pay a living wage for a family. The remainder (340) will strain the state’s budget through unemployment and medical, criminal and social costs.

But here’s why I have hope for how we can turn things around.

  • Parents and the public get it, as evidenced from the Achieving the Possible: What Americans Think About the College- and Career-Ready Agenda report from Achieve Inc.
  • There is widespread agreement (almost 90 percent) that all students need additional education and training beyond high school.
  • Support for policies aimed to prepare high school students for college and careers is broad, deep and fully bipartisan with equally high numbers of Democratic, Republican and independent voters supporting such (almost 90 percent for each group).
  • There is strong support (two-thirds of respondents) for the specific policies that put common expectations in place for all students – including common standards, common assessments and graduation requirements among all states.
  • More generally, there is near-universal agreement across partisan, ethnic/racial and geographic lines that some education and training beyond high school is necessary – and that stronger expectations in high school will go a long way toward preparing students for their next steps.

The central question for us in Kentucky is not whom is to blame for these results, but what are we going to do about these results? There are those who will say we cannot fund or support schools and colleges to improve these results and prepare our children for the future; however, if we do not work to support improvements in outcomes, then we will probably be sending our children forward to a continuing recession and loss of America’s leadership among world economies.

The Kentucky Board of Education and the Kentucky Department of Education released the first college- and career-ready report in late September that showed results for each high school and district in Kentucky. We’re also adopting a new accountability system that focuses on improving the college- and career-ready rates for Kentucky high school graduates. Numerous regulations and support mechanisms will be put in place; however, the ultimate work is in every school and district in Kentucky. This work does not belong just to high schools and colleges – every parent, school, teacher, business leader and politician in Kentucky must work together to impact the future for our children. What will YOU do to support the children?

(To comment on this topic, contact Commissioner Holliday at