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ACT Reports That Significant Gaps Persist Between Career Interests of 2010 High School Graduates and Job Projections

October 8 2010

IOWA CITY, Iowa—ACT has released national and state-specific data for all 50 states that helps answer the question: Are students prepared for college and career? The analysis reveals likely shortfalls in high-growth career fields as well as inadequate preparation to succeed in coursework required for these fields.

The analysis compares data from two sources for the nation and for each of the 50 states: long-term occupational projections and results contained in ACT’s recently released The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2010 reports. A state’s occupational projections are based on job growth and job replacement forecasts for the decade ending 2016 to 2018. ACT is an international not-for-profit organization experienced in educational and workplace skills assessment and research.

The ACT report reveals career interests and achievement results for the 2010 ACT-tested high school graduates. The analysis in bar chart form shows the five highest-growth career fields in each state requiring a two-year college degree or higher; the percentage of 2010 ACT-tested graduates in the state expressing interest in those five career fields; and the percentage of students meeting ACT’s recommended College Readiness Benchmarks in each of four subject areas (English, reading, mathematics and science) who expressed interest in each of the high-growth career fields

One analysis reveals the gaps between projected job openings and student career interests. A second analysis indicates the college and career readiness of ACT-tested graduates interested in the five high-growth career fields. These data may have implications for economic development nationally and in each state.

The nation’s five fastest-growing career fields requiring at least a two-year degree, based on 2008-2018 annual projected job openings from the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, are depicted below. These five career fields account for 53 percent of the demand for jobs.

However, for all five career fields, the percentage of the nation’s 2010 ACT-tested high school graduates expressing an interest in those fields falls short of projected openings. The most significant gaps are for Computer/Information Specialties (9 percentage points) and Education (7 percentage points).

Far too few students who expressed interest in the five high-growth career fields have attained the level of knowledge to be ready for college-entry coursework in English, reading, mathematics and science as measured by ACT’s College Readiness Benchmarks.

The ACT College Readiness Benchmarks, which are based on the actual grades earned by students in college, give ACT the unique ability to define college and career readiness and report student performance results relative to that goal. The benchmarks specify the minimum scores needed on each ACT subject-area test to indicate that a student has a 50 percent chance of earning a grade of B or higher or about a 75 percent chance of earning a C or higher in a typical credit-bearing first-year college course in that subject area (English composition, college algebra, introductory social science and biology). Years of empirical ACT data indicate that students who meet or surpass the College Readiness Benchmarks are more likely to go to college, stay in school and graduate with a college degree.

“Students interested in these careers mostly met the College Readiness Benchmarks in English and reading,” said ACT chief executive officer Jon Whitmore. However, only about a quarter of the students met all four College Readiness Benchmarks within each of the five career fields.”

Whitmore added, “ACT research indicates that given these results, many students are not on the right path to take advantage of career opportunities in these high-growth fields requiring a two-year degree or more. Fortunately, given that the occupational projections extend through 2018, there is time for middle and high school students to consider, plan, and prepare for careers in the fields where openings are projected to be the highest.”

Example occupations for the five highest-growth career fields are as follows:

  • Education: such as secondary school teachers, secondary school administrators
  • Computer/Information Specialties: such as computer programmers, database administrators
  • Management: such as hotel/restaurant managers, convention planners
  • Community Services: such as social workers, school counselors
  • Marketing/Sales: such as insurance agents, buyers

For more information, see the complete College and Career Readiness Report for the nation and for each state. Workforce data appears on page 17 of the national report and on page 10 of each state report.