College and Career Readiness

 Milestones for Student Success

What it is

Preparing students for college and career has long been a priority of schools, districts, and states. All 50 states and Washington, D.C. have at one point defined what “college and career readiness” means, highlighting the knowledge and skills needed for postsecondary success.

Missouri no longer defines college and career readiness, but instead states that a “success-ready student has the knowledge, skills, behaviors, and experiences to achieve personal goals and contribute in all facets of life.” This is a change from the previous definition of college and career readiness.

Students in workshop class.

Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for EDUimages

Why it matters

Over the past 50 years, college and career readiness standards have shifted as automation and globalization have fundamentally transformed our economy. 


  • Students prepared for postsecondary education have a better chance at obtaining mid- to high-paying jobs.
  • Only 20% of jobs today can be accessed with only a high school diploma compared to 50 years ago.
  • Another 24% of jobs require training to operate in a middle-skill level occupation.
  • More than half of jobs today — 56% — require at least a bachelor’s degree.


At least 80% of living wage jobs require at least some postsecondary education.

What the data tell us

In Missouri, college and career readiness (or “success-readiness”) has not improved over the past decade as evidenced by ACT performance data.

  • Composite ACT scores declined from 20.8 in 2021 to 20.3 in 2022, with the largest declines where participation rates exceeded 90%. (This implies that students not participating in the ACT are, on average, less prepared for their next step.)

In St. Louis City, ACT performance declined from 16.4 in 2021 to 15.8 in 2022. Results are similar in St. Louis County, where ACT performance declined from 22.5 in 2021 to 21.6 in 2022.

  • St. Louis City performance still sits well below the career readiness benchmark score of 22.

  • Average scores in St. Louis City are closer to the benchmark in English (3.4 points below) than in math (6.2 points below).

Missouri does not publish ACT results by district or by race. Data published by ACT show white students were five times more likely to meet benchmarks in 2019 than Black students (44% versus 9%).

These results track with the performance of graduates entering Missouri colleges and universities. In 2018-19, one in five first-year students required remediation in mathematics, and one in 10 in reading.  


What we’re learning

In Missouri, school districts are evaluated on several college and career readiness measures, including the performance of graduates meeting standards on the ACT, SAT, and other career-pathway-specific assessments. In 2020, 70% of Missouri’s high school graduates took the ACT, making it a broad, statewide measure of our young people’s preparedness.

Multiple studies have found that the ACT is the most valid predictor of postsecondary education outcomes—such as GPA, promotion, completion, and others— as well as workforce readiness. Even as there is research to highlight biases within the test, it still remains most valid at predicting these outcomes. The ACT publishes benchmarks to help students, families, and educators understand the level of achievement that is associated with a high probability of success along these pathways.


The condition of college and career readiness, ACT 2019.

Review the Benchmarks >

In schools, there are multiple interventions with evidence of improving college and career readiness. Some of the most prominent and well-researched examples in high schools include whole school interventions like Diplomas Now.

Additionally, schools can adopt specific strategies, such as dual enrollment or early college models.  Both approaches allow students to earn transferable college credit, saving time and money upon matriculation to a postsecondary institution.  These programs can be targeted toward historically underrepresented students to increase equitable access to higher education.

Systems pioneering this approach include Denver Public Schools, which had seven high schools serving students with an early college model as of 2018.

Illinois recently launched a partnership with OneGoal to scale its postsecondary preparation program to schools across the state.

At the local level, innovative models across the country are creating compelling and effective pathways to close the skills gap through direct relationships with employers, such as Brooklyn STEAM Center and P-TECH.


Denver public Schools logo

Read about the model >

Some solutions in education are expensive. Take early college high schools, which give students a head start on their college degrees but cost about $3,800 extra per student. Are they worth it? New research suggests that these schools might actually pay for themselves in long-term benefits to both students and the public as a whole.  – Jill Barshay, The Hechinger Report

How to improve

      • Missouri can recommit to a common definition of college and career readiness to ensure state policy and school accountability are focused on an aligned and trackable vision of excellence for high school graduates.

      A comprehensive review of states’ definitions found just 21 states had “actionable” definitions which are “grounded in concrete skills that students must master to be considered college and/or career ready in that state and enable improvement or intervention when outlined expectations are not met.”


      • Missouri can incentivize ACT participation to have a meaningful measure of students’ readiness for postsecondary opportunities.
      • Local school systems should incentivize high schools to develop models that embed career and technical training into curriculum and focus on rapidly evolving and increasingly in-demand STEAM fields.
      • Other interventions, such as summer counseling and summer “bridge” programs between high school and postsecondary are necessary supports to support college enrollment, matriculation, persistence, and completion. 
      • Schools can adopt strategies that increase equitable access to higher education, such as early college programs that allow students to earn transferable college credit in high school.