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NY: High School Graduation Rates Climb But Few Students Prepared for College: State Audit

Published: October 5, 2022
NYU students wearing graduation caps and gowns take graduation photos in Washington Square Park on May 23, 2021 in New York City. While more New York State students are graduating high school only 57 percent were deemed “college ready” according to a state audit released on Oct. 4. (Image: Noam Galai/Getty Images)

According to a state audit, released on Oct. 4, while more New York City students may be graduating from high school, only 57 percent of them are considered “college ready” and for those that do go on to college 37 percent of them drop out in the first semester.

“DOE [Department of Education] 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 audit concluded. 

The audit focused on the last pre-COVID-19 high school class in 2019 when only 77 percent of students across all five boroughs graduated.

While only 57 percent of students were deemed “college ready” the audit found that 63 percent of all high school students audited went on to college. 

The findings were based on how long it took students to graduate high school and how they performed on state proficiency tests.

According to national data published by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit news outlet, they concluded that in 2019, 26.1 percent of students who started college across the country dropped out before the end of the year compared to 37 percent of New York City students dropping out. 

The report also revealed a racial disparity among the numbers. It found that four-out-of-five students who didn’t graduate by their expected dates were either hispanic or black. 

When looking at neighborhood graduation rates, levels of success varied widely. In District 23, for example, nearly half of students in Ocean Hill and Brownsville didn’t graduate on time. However, this doesn’t mean they won’t graduate. 

In a smaller, randomized sample, nearly half of the students didn’t meet the DOE’s own standards for college readiness.


State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said, “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.”

According to the report, recent policy changes that made state tests optional or dispensed with them altogether have made it possible for New York City students to graduate high school without requiring them to demonstrate their grasp of basic skills in reading, writing, and math. 

“This made it easier for students to graduate although they may not have been college ready,” DiNapoli wrote in his report. 

The COVID-19 pandemic, and the associated disruptions in learning due to quarantines and lock downs are being partially blamed for the spotty performance by New York City students.

Universities, nationwide, are reporting that more and more freshmen are arriving to college unprepared due to COVID-19 disruptions, the NY Post reported. 

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

Acknowledging the challenges presented in the audit, the city is implementing programs that include funding and staff training for college and career advising, early college programs, and offering advanced coursework like AP courses. 

One specific program, announced on Oct. 4, aims to assist 230 students in foster care to enroll in and complete a college degree.

The program, dubbed “College Choice” directs $15,000 in city funds, per student, towards college costs in addition to room and board and a stipend. 

Mayor Eric Adams said at a news conference announcing the program that, “We cannot just drop you off and say you are no longer our responsibility. We got their backs, because we’re going to need them to have our backs. Our young people are not the leaders of tomorrow, they’re leaders of today.”