Many NYC public school grads aren’t ready for college, state audit finds

More city students may be graduating from high school these days — but fewer are actually ready for the rigors of college, a state audit released Tuesday found.

Only 57% of city students were “college ready” the study by the state Comptroller’s office found — and of those who went on to higher education, a disappointing 37% dropped out in the first semester.

“We found DOE [Department of Education] should do more to prepare students to be college ready,” the report said.

“DOE should do more to help students gain the proficiency levels needed to enroll and persist in a post-secondary institution, and this preparation should begin much earlier in students’ school years.”

The report focused on the last pre-COVID-19 class in 2019, and found that only 77% of students across the five boroughs graduated that year.

Sixty-three percent of all students went to college — even though the study found that only 57% were ready based on how long it took them to graduate high school and how they did on state proficiency tests.

And their lack of readiness showed, as 37% of them left higher education by the end of the first semester, the audit found. This number is compared to national data published in the nonprofit news outlet The Hechinger Report, which found 26.1% of students who started college across America in fall 2019 dropped out by the end of the school year.

Many NYC public school grads aren’t ready for college, state audit finds
According to a report from the state Comptroller’s office, only 57% of New York City high school students are “college ready.”
Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

The report also found a racial disparity, as roughly four-out-of-five students who didn’t graduate by their expected dates were hispanic or black.

Rates also varied widely across the city’s many neighborhoods, including in District 23, where nearly half of students in Ocean Hill and Brownsville didn’t graduate on time.

And nearly half of kids in a smaller, randomized sample didn’t meet the DOE’s own standards for college readiness, based on years it took for them to graduate or academic proficiency on state tests.

“The DOE must make sure students are ready for their next steps after high school and should prioritize elementary and middle school intervention in city school districts where large numbers of students do not graduate high school,” said State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli's report also found that 37% of city graduates dropped out of college in the first semester.
Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s report also found that 37% of city graduates dropped out of college in the first semester.
Stephen Yang

Meanwhile, changes both to whether state tests were optional or administered at all, and how those scores factor into a student’s eligibility for a diploma, have made it possible for students to graduate high school without demonstrating their grasp of basic skills in reading and writing, and in math, the report said.

“This made it easier for students to graduate although they may not have been college ready,” read the comptroller’s report.

While the study focused on students who graduated before the pandemic upended school in the city and across America, it comes as and expert said universities nationwide have reported more freshmen arriving unprepared due to COVID-19 disruptions.

“Students coming into classes, I think many of them did experience upheaval in their education, especially in math,” said Elisabeth Barnett, a college readiness professor from Columbia University Teachers College and researcher at the national Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness.

Barnett told The Post the New York City data mostly lines up with national figures, given the demographics of the city’s public schools. But that students benefit from showing up to campus prepared for the work, even though supports may be available once they get there.

“Especially when students first get to college, they’re often very insecure about if they belong there. So if they get told they’re not college ready, that can be a very big blow,” Barnett said.

The report found that only 77% of students in the city graduated in 2019.
The report found that only 77% of high school students in the city graduated in 2019.
Paul Martinka

Recognizing many of the problems laid out in the audit, the city is rolling out programs that include funding and staff training for college and career advising, advanced coursework like AP courses, early college credit programs, and “bridge-to-college” programs the summer after graduation.

“This administration is deeply committed to continuing to strengthen the path from high school to college and good paying careers,” DOE spokesperson Nicole Brownstein said.

One of those programs, announced on Tuesday, is a small but ambitious push to help 230 students in foster care enroll and complete college. The so-called “College Choice” initiative directs $15,000 per student in city funds towards the unwieldy price tag of any college — plus room and board, and a stipend.

“We cannot just drop you off and say you are no longer our responsibility,” said Mayor Eric Adams at a news conference announcing the program.

“We got their backs, because we’re going to need them to have our backs,” he added. “Our young people are not the leaders of tomorrow — they’re the leaders of today.”

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