At first glance, young Americans' college prospects seem bright. Four in five high-school students expect to complete a college degree, and most parents are behind them, with six out of 10 agreeing a college education is "absolutely necessary" for their child. Sadly, only one-third of all high school students will actually earn a college degree. 

So says this policy brief from the Education Commission of the States (ECS), which examines the gap between students' academic expectations and the realities they face. Bottom line, students are more optimistic about their futures than they probably should be. Several issues complicate their efforts to secure a college degree. For one, students and parents are misinformed about what it takes to prepare for college. Fewer than 12 percent of high-schoolers even know what courses they should take (another reason to support the Ohio Core).

Students whose parents did not go to college are at a particular disadvantage. Just 19 percent were found to be "very qualified" to enroll in a four-year college, compared to 31 percent of students whose parents had completed some college.

In response, ECS recommends that high school students and parents set clear goals, choose challenging high school courses, and learn more about colleges' expectations-all of which will raise students' chances of future success in college. The commission also calls for states to make college more affordable and to require that schools provide parents with annual updates of their children's college readiness.

Though the brief contains little new information, it's an important reminder that while pluralities of parents and students are realizing the "why" of earning a college degree, there are miles to go in learning the "how."

Read the commission's brief here.

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