Credentials still valued, but cost, flexibility are barriers

Nearly all the adults without a college degree who participated in a Gallup survey about higher education say that having a credential is valuable.

But cost and flexibility concerns – such as work conflicts – are the top reasons people stopped out before finishing a postsecondary program.  

For the State of Higher Education study, which Gallup and Lumina Foundation partnered on, 14,032 current and prospective college students participated in a web survey in late 2023. Among those surveyed were 6,015 students currently enrolled in a post-high school education program (certificate, associate or bachelor’s degree), 5,012 adults previously enrolled in a program who did not complete a degree and 3,005 adults who have never been enrolled in postsecondary program.

Of those who did not complete a degree, 87% say cost is a “very” or “moderately” important reason they’re not enrolled. That’s closely followed by flexibility concerns: 81% cite work conflicts, 73% say total time to complete and 70% say lack of remote learning options are very or moderately important reasons.

Of the currently enrolled students surveyed, about a third have considered stopping out of their program within the last six months. Among those considering stopping out, 64% say emotional stress or mental health concerns are significant reasons.

Some good news

The survey reveals that more than 90% of all adults without a college degree say at least one type of credential is “extremely” or “very” valuable. In fact, 59% of unenrolled adults have considered enrolling in additional education in the past two years. That’s up from 44% who said the same in 2021.

Why? Mainly, to improve career outcomes, say 84% of current or prospective students. Outcomes include earning a raise, promotion or a more fulfilling role.

Adults across all enrollment backgrounds see the greatest value in industry certifications, bachelor’s degrees and graduate degrees. Interest in industry certifications has gone up 9 percentage points since 2021.

More than half of survey respondents also said that confidence in the value of the degree or credential and financial aid/scholarships are “very important” reasons they’ll enroll or remain enrolled. That’s followed by an increase in personal income and enjoyment of the program.

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