College and career readiness rates on the rise among Alabama high school graduates

Cullman area schools get high marks in multiple areas

A student speaks at a local college and career fair. (2016 Cullman Tribune file photo)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARC) has released its findings on college and career readiness (CCR) among Alabama high school graduates, and the signs are good, especially for Cullman’s county and city school systems.

PARC explained its criteria for judging CCR:

The Alabama College and Career Strategic Plan (a component of Plan 2020) articulated a vision in which all Alabama students graduate high school college and career ready. The plan defines college and career readiness as:  

‘…a high school graduate [that] has the English and mathematics knowledge and skills necessary to either (1) qualify for and succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing college courses without the need for remedial coursework, or (2) qualify for and succeed in the postsecondary job training and/or education necessary for their chosen career (i.e. technical/vocational program, community college, apprenticeship or significant on-the-job training).’

High school graduates are classified as college and career ready (CCR) if they meet at least one of the following criteria.

  1. Score college ready in at least one subject on the ACT
  2. Score at the silver level or above on the WorkKeys Assessment
  3. Earn a passing score on an Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate Exam (college-level courses delivered in high schools)
  4. Successfully earn a Career Technical Education credential
  5. Earn dual enrollment credit at a college or university
  6. Successfully enlist in the military


Some of these measures are more aligned with college preparation and others with career preparation.

Across the state since 2011, graduation rates have improved drastically, rising from only 72% in 2011 to 90% in 2018. CCR, though, has lagged behind. in 2016, with the graduation rate at 87%, CCR sat at only 66%.  In 2017, as graduation rose to 89%, CCR jumped to 71%. In 2018, graduation rose another point to hit 90%, while CCR made another leap to hit 75%.

PARC said of the increase:

“Though the gap is still large, it is improving.

“Continuing to close that gap is vital. The state has a goal of adding 500,000 highly-skilled workers to the workforce by 2025. To meet that goal, virtually all high school graduates will need to be prepared for education beyond high school or prepared to enter the workforce directly after high school.”

Cullman area schools and the State of Alabama: by the numbers

Following is a comparison of the percentile scores in each CCR criteria listed above for 2018.

State of Alabama – 90% graduation, 75% CCR

  1. ACT – 50.64%
  2. WorkKeys – 57.07% 
  3. Advanced Placement – 11.16%
  4. Career Technical Education credential – 28.56%
  5. Dual Enrollment – 12.61%
  6. Military Enlistment – 2.05%


Cullman County Schools – 94% graduation, 90.32% CCR

  1. ACT – 48.81%
  2. WorkKeys – 64.24%
  3. Advanced Placement – 4.77%
  4. Career Technical Education credential – 32.54%
  5. Dual Enrollment – 41.09%
  6. Military Enlistment – 2.24%


Cullman City Schools – 93% graduation, 89.13% CCR

  1. ACT – 76.52%
  2. WorkKeys – 83.04%
  3. Advanced Placement – 24.78%
  4. Career Technical Education credential – 22.17%
  5. Dual Enrollment – 8.70%
  6. Military Enlistment – 1.30%

In the PARC numbers, the county school system just edged out the city system in both graduation and CCR rates. 

  • Both exceeded the state’s overall graduation rate, and both substantially outpaced the state’s CCR rate. Both systems are among the top 20 in the state.
  • The county system fell slightly behind the state average on the ACT, while the city system’s rate was roughly half again higher than the state. Almost 80% of 2018 city graduates demonstrated CCR on their ACT’s, and the system was the seventh highest ranked in the state.
  • Both systems outdid the state average on the WorkKeys assessment, with the city’s rate almost 20 points above the county. Over 83% of 2018 city graduates excelled on the test, and over 64% of county students did the same. The city system was ranked fourth in the state.
  • In earning early college credit, the city system more than doubled the state advanced placement average, ranking 12th in the state, while the county system fell behind the state. On dual enrollment, the city fell behind the state average, while the county’s rate was three times that of the state, thanks to the partnership between the county and Wallace State, ranking the county system fourth in the state in dual enrollment. Nearly half of 2018 county graduates earned some type of college credit in high school.
  • The city system was below the state average in Career Technical Education credentials, but the county system exceeded the state by several points. Almost one third of county students received some type of CTE credential.
  • Military enlistment numbers were low across the board, with city numbers below the state average and county numbers slightly above.

PARC concluded:

As a composite of various academic and career indicators, Alabama’s College and Career Ready metric reflects three important concepts.

  • Every student needs either a post-secondary education or credible career-focused training in high school.
  • Post-secondary education need not be a traditional four-year college degree.
  • There are many different pathways for students.

The gap between Alabama’s graduation rate and the number of graduates deemed college and career ready has been a concern, but one with optimism given progress in closing that gap.

Career Technical Education certificates are the fastest-growing measure through which students are earning the CCR marker. These credentialing programs are meant to prepare students for workforce opportunities in high-demand fields right out of high school.  They combine academics with work-based learning as a strategy to address the widening gap between job applicants’ skills and the skills employers need. The state will need to continuously ensure that all courses and concentrations are of high quality and relevant to the workforce needs in the state and in local communities.  

Beyond preparing students with skills for specific jobs, an array of academic, extracurricular, and work-based learning opportunities can develop the student as a whole person capable of thoughtful decision-making and meet the unique needs and preferences of each student. Academics, career training, life skills, and the cultivation of passions and interests can all come together to support college, career, and life readiness.

Alabama is assessing progress on part of this, but not all. The state has made a good faith effort to evaluate college and career readiness through a variety of measures such as the ACT, college dual enrollment, WorkKeys, and Career and Technical Education (CTE) certification. Still, this is a changing and growing field. Skills and attributes needed in various careers are continually changing. Alabama should remain alert to more rigorous and authentic measures of college and career readiness that may emerge.

To view the PARC study’s results, visit

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W.C. Mann