08/31/2012 10:16 am ET Updated Oct 31, 2012

Ready or Not, Here They Come

Most American high school students are not ready for college, according to two reports released last week. ACT's report on The Condition of College and Career Readiness and the Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll on public education find high school students lack both the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in college and the public confidence in their readiness for higher education.

According to the ACT report on readiness, 60 percent of the students in America's spring 2012 high school graduating class who had taken the standardized test did not hit more than two of the four college readiness benchmarks. Twenty-eight percent did not hit any of the benchmarks on English, math, reading and science tests. Another 15 percent met only one; 17 percent met just two. These students are much less likely to make an A, B, or C in college courses than the 25 percent of high school graduates who did very well on all four tests.

At Gallup, we wondered whether Americans had confidence in the college readiness of today's high school students. So, this summer, we posed the following statement to a representative sample of Americans and asked them if they agree: "Today's high school graduates are ready for college." Two-thirds did not agree. These results from the 2012 PDK/Gallup poll suggest that Americans have significant doubts that today's high school graduates are ready for college.

This bad news looms large as freshmen are showing up and settling in at a college near you. Some people will say that disjointed high school curriculum is at fault for this new batch of college freshmen's lack of readiness. Others will pick on the teachers or parents who, in their opinion, did not do enough to get the students ready.

But, Gallup Student Poll data points to a more direct explanation: only half of our nation's high school students are hopeful about their future. Without hope -- a personal belief that their future will be better than their present coupled with a sense of self determination -- achievement in school and the workplace will be less than stellar.

The education pipeline in America is filled with students who are not ready for the future. High school graduates are not ready for college and college graduates are not ready for the world of work. While others rejigger curricula and complain about teachers, maybe the rest of us should get to know a student, push them to create a compelling vision of their future, and then help them take a few steps in the right direction.

Maybe we should be a little more like Yano Jones, a talent advisor at Avenue Scholars, an Omaha, Nebraska program founded to boost hope in students of talent and need. Yano's job is to help scholars realize their talent and overcome the obstacles associated with growing up impoverished and without the right kind of role models. More practically, Yano does everything he can to make sure that his 50 scholars in his care go to school every day, do their homework, stay out of trouble, finish high school, enroll in college, and earn their degree. Some mornings Yano wakes up as early as 4:30 to drive his students to football practice, stays up late to attend a school theatrical performance, and then taxies a student safely home. When Yano shuttles his "babies" he helps them figure out how to get from Point A to Point B in life. By giving them hope, Yano's scholars become more ready -- to learn, work, and achieve -- as they chase down a future that matters to them. If he can make hope happen for 50 young people, can't you do that for one?