I can find a bunch of articles about the skills gap between university graduates and job requirements, but it seems that there are limited resources on the skills gaps that high school students have coming into university. Does anyone have any good references that might illuminate any skills gaps? I'd prefer a world-wide perspective, but that might be asking for the moon. I'm in Canada, and specifically Ontario, working in STEM.

To be fair, I can definitely pin-point some things I've personally observed, but I'm looking more for data and studies that are more in-depth than my personal anecdotes will allow.

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    Much of this also could depend on the university we are speaking of. Students entering an Ivy League school might be more "ready" than students going to a lower tier state institution. – Vladhagen Aug 30 '18 at 15:40
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    I don't necessarily disagree, but my own experience with three institutions seems to cast doubt. I've so far worked with students at a mid-tier university, a university with an emerging/new program, and a top-tier university (at least for Canada) and I've found no major difference. Awkwardly, it seems that grades from high school seem to make little difference – Michael Stachowsky Aug 30 '18 at 15:42
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    @MichaelStachowsky One difference is that in my experience in the US, universities often have programs in place to assist with those skills gaps. I am particularly thinking about major state-run universities that admit a non-negligible number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds who may have high potential but limited skills due to educational disparities. You might have more luck looking for information about the function of those sorts of programs. – Bryan Krause Aug 30 '18 at 20:22

In the US, the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks reflect academic skills that students should have before entering college. Sadly many high school graduates don't meet these standards and end up in remedial classes to make up for their lack of preparation.

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    Is there any data on which skills are missing, and by what measure? – Michael Stachowsky Aug 30 '18 at 15:40
  • Follow the link- there's a wealth of data on that website. They're lacking in academic skills across the board, but particularly in mathematics preparation for STEM fields. – Brian Borchers Aug 30 '18 at 15:42
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    In addition to academic issues, students also struggle with motivational issues and adjusting to the culture of a particular institution- I don't want to imply that those aren't important factors. However, if you can't pass your classes because you don't have adequate background, then it simply won't matter how motivated you are or whether you've made a good adjustment to college life. – Brian Borchers Aug 30 '18 at 15:46

My response is also anecdotal, but it is based in over a decade of working with college students in various roles (advising undergrads, teaching undergrads).

The number one issue I see with students coming from high school is not that they are unintelligent or incapable. Rather it is that they have not learned how to work at learning. When you go to college, you spend maybe 3 or 4 hours a day in class (assuming a normal schedule). What you do with the remaining 12 or so waking hours will determine the amount of success you have in college. The school day does not get shorter in college, it gets longer.

I would have students come to me complaining that they had studied THREE WHOLE HOURS for an exam in real analysis (junior level class). I would then tell them that I studied more than that for a 10th grade algebra exam in high school.

Overall, I would say that the number one skill that incoming college students need to obtain is the skill to sit for multiple hours every day and teach the material to themselves outside of class. The professor is there to aim you in the right direction and facilitate your learning, but he or she cannot make you learn the material. That needs to be done on your own time.

  • If I were to summarize my own anecdotes that would basically be it. However, I'm still looking for more data. For instance, is my premise - that there is a skills gap - even valid? Are we remembering only the stand-out students and ignoring the majority of good learners? – Michael Stachowsky Aug 30 '18 at 15:35
  • Time management was a skill many college students needed even 30+ years ago. For a good student, high school was easy. At a good college, all your peers experienced the same thing, but now everyone is held to a higher standard. – Jon Custer Aug 30 '18 at 16:00

There is a problem, not often recognized, that affects some of the best students as they progress through the educational system. Early on, many of those who do well, don't actually have to work very hard to do so. School is easy for them. They are comfortable with the kinds of exams they have to take and no one challenges them very much. That isn't true for everyone, or for every school, of course, but some students can just coast for a while. Often into the beginning of college or even further.

The problem with this scenario occurs when they finally reach something that isn't obvious or easy. But they haven't developed good learning skills in order to deal with it. So they crash, not wondering what happened.

In my view, the real issue is that learning is a skill like any other that actually needs to be taught, and no one taught these students how to learn, thinking it wasn't necessary as they did so well.

I've had college students (in their third year, actually) that had no idea whatever of how to learn anything in a lecture. They didn't know the material before they got there, but just watched, passively, thinking that they would absorb it as they had simpler things. In particular they had no idea at all of how to take notes effectively, how to summarize their notes, nor how to abstract out the two or three key points of a lecture. It was just a picture show to them.

So, even in a third year CS class, I had to teach these students how to learn the material. They didn't know how to take notes, and didn't really even know that it was necessary.

As I said at the top, this can affect the best students, not the strugglers. The not-so-best students know that they have to work. I was fortunate to learn fairly early that I didn't learn easily, so developed better habits that others who outshone me academically early on.

Some things are counterproductive. Hi-liters and text books are a bad idea unless used with discipline. I've seen used books where nearly every line was hi-lited. Likewise laptops aren't actually effective as a learning tool in lecture. There is not enough brain-engagement when you are just listening and typing, trying to capture every word. True, having the whole lecture may be valuable for something, but not for learning unless you also abstract out the essential ideas. It is too easy to forget that part. I've found that index cards are very effective for note taking, precisely because you can't write too much on them, so you tend to write the key ideas, not every word. You can also use index cards rather than hi-liters when reading, making a note of essential ideas.

The other key thing about index cards is that they can be organized and re-organized with new thoughts inserted with new cards. They can also be easily carried and referred to in odd moments when you would otherwise have "dead time" but could review the day's lectures.

Learn how to learn.

  • I think this is an excellent and (often) under-appreciated point, summed up very well in your first para. This actually happened to me in my 2nd/3rd year of undergrad and it was a real eye-opener, I remember actually floundering a bit just before my PhD until I found useful subject-specific "learn how to learn" advice, e.g. dpmms.cam.ac.uk/~wtg10/mathsindex.html – Yemon Choi Aug 30 '18 at 23:47

I have heard this referred to as the problem of articulation. For example:

2015 CUPM Curriculum Guide, Articulation Issues: High School to College Mathematics

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