Teens cool toward four-year college, warm up to CTE

A new national survey of U.S. teens indicates their likelihood of pursuing a four-year degree has decreased substantially over the past eight months, while a growing number believe they can achieve professional success with a postsecondary education attained in three years or less.

Polled high school students ages 14 to 18 who say they are likely to attend a four-year school dropped to 53% from 71% eight months ago, according to a new ECMC Group survey. Meanwhile, 52% believe they can succeed in a career with postsecondary education other than a four-year degree, and one-quarter of high schoolers say they are more likely to attend a career and technical education (CTE) school due to the pandemic. Plus, 16% believe a skill-based education, like trade skills or STEM, makes sense in today’s world.

The findings come from the most recent of three national surveys by ECMC Group and VICE Media conducted over the past 12 months of students age 14 to 18 to gauge their thinking about their educational path after high school. More than 3,200 students were included in the surveys, which are part of a new Question The Quo campaign developed by ECMC Group. The campaign aims to help students learn about various higher education options, according to the company.

Need more information

The survey shows that 62% of respondents want to develop their own educational path, but many high school students feel uninformed about available options. Some 63% of teens said they wished their high school provided more information about various postsecondary education opportunities.

“High school students and their families have faced a great deal of change in their lives over the past year, which is translating into uncertainty as they look to their career paths,” said Jeremy Wheaton, president and CEO of ECMC Group. “While this shift in mindset isn’t surprising, it is up to us as leaders and mentors to educate learners about their future opportunities, which includes raising awareness about the variety of postsecondary learning options that are available.”

Mulling other options?

The survey also indicates that teens want to attain skills and faster pathways to careers.

  • 61% believe a skill-based education (such as trade skills, nursing and STEM) makes sense.
  • 45% agree that a program they can complete in a shorter period of time (within two years) makes sense.
  • Nearly 25% are more likely to attend a CTE school due to their experience with the pandemic.

College costs remain a factor for many high schoolers. Half of survey participants said they were concerned about graduating college with high debt. Meanwhile, 44% said they were concerned about not getting a job after they finished, and 40% were worried about not being prepared for a job after they graduate.   

The pandemic has definitely affected teens’ views on postsecondary education, the survey findings show. About 29% said the pandemic’s financial impact makes it less likely they will attend a four-year college, while 24% said the financial impact would make them less likely to pursue any education beyond high school.

Government/business roles

Gen Z teens also shared their views of government and businesses covering part of their higher education costs.

  • Half believe the government should provide additional money to pay off student loans.
  • 39% support the government subsidizing/paying off debt.
  • 39% said the government should subsidize/pay for college.
  • 38% believe companies should provide formal education.
  • 37% said companies should provide money to pay off student loans.

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