Self-doubt a key barrier to going to college

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Self-doubt is a major barrier for half of Americans when assessing whether to pursue education and training, according to an ongoing survey by the Strada Education Network.

Time/logistics remains a top challenge for many Americans, and cost is another barrier that researchers expected. But also near the top of the list is self-doubt, meaning survey participants doubted whether they could succeed in college.

Even though many Americans still see education as a way to better jobs — 35% of Americans believe they would need more education or training if they lost their job — that hasn’t translated into higher enrollments during the pandemic so far, according to Strada researchers who discussed the findings Wednesday during a webinar. Many adult learners are likely uncertain they can succeed in college or return successfully to school to learn or upgrade skills, which could be keeping them from enrolling, said David Clayton, senior vice president of consumer insights at Strada.

Also, Americans appear to be uncertain whether more education and training will lead to jobs during the current economy, the researchers said, noting that they will watch whether upticks in the economy prompt enrollment increases.

Better alignment with available jobs

Andrew Hanson, director of research at Strada, noted that while some industries have tanked during the pandemic — especially leisure and hospitality — others have seen an increase, particularly information technology, healthcare, manufacturing, transportation and warehousing. He noted recent reports that Amazon has hired 430,000 workers over 10 months.

There is likely a disconnect between what jobs are available and what individuals are seeking, Hanson said. People may be unaware of which sectors are growing. Hanson noted there are 360,000 job openings in manufacturing, up 3% compared to last year. Yet, only 2% of people who have expressed interest in changing careers cited manufacturing as an area they wanted to explore.

“We need to cultivate their interest in fields where those opportunities exist, and we need to build programs that align with what’s in demand in the job market,” Hanson said.

Education advocates and other stakeholders also could do a better job of helping students to decipher what credentials they need to attain certain jobs or careers, the researchers said. In addition, students should have more opportunities to explore potential careers, beginning in high schools, through activities such as internships, said Nicole Torpey-Saboe, director of research at Strada.

“It’s still a missing piece for too many students,” she said.

Other survey findings:

  • Since the onset of the pandemic, Americans have expressed a consistent preference for non-degree and skills training options.
  • When students have the support to connect their education to a career, they are more likely to say their education will be worth the cost.
  • Black Americans and Latinos intend to enroll in education and training programs at higher rates than white Americans.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.