Sign Of The Times: Students Are Losing Interest In College Survey Reveals

Interest in college has been dropping for over a decade, and it took the pandemic to make us notice.

With a study suggesting that college students require more than just the encouragement of a better future, this begs the question of what the landscape of postsecondary education will be a decade from now. 

A Negative Outlook on College

In the study conducted by both HCM Strategists and Edge Research, 1,675 people between the ages of 18 and 30, along with 11 separate focus groups, were assessed on their opinions about college.

And the biggest takeaway? These individuals perceive that college does not provide the desired value they are looking for.

Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the study was conducted in March and April of 2022, revealing that not only did the participants feel that college was too high-cost with insufficient return, but it also warranted additional psychological distress.

Skills Can Be Learned Elsewhere

And with other options on the market, it’s no surprise that a future generation is growing more comfortable looking elsewhere for their additional education. 

Though 68 percent of those interviewed agreed that a good job requires certification to prove someone’s skills, only 57 percent agreed that a college degree was necessary for the same thing.

With a vast selection of certifications available online, it appears that individuals are losing interest in college when it may be possible to achieve the same or similar result at a cheaper – and more flexible – cost.

Flexible Learning Options Would Make A Difference

76 percent of the participants expressed that it would be either extremely or very helpful, were college able to offer more flexibility in its programs.

With the option of online certifications, YouTube educational videos, stackable courses, and even on-the-job training, it is understandable to see where the allure is coming from.

Why pay for a college education with little flexibility and support when you could achieve similar results online or through other means?

Huge Investment, Low Returns?

And it’s not just the siren call of more flexible learning that’s discouraging future students.

The financial pressure is very real, forcing individuals to question whether the investment in a college education is actually worthwhile.

Of those surveyed, 45 percent agreed with the statement, “Getting a college degree is not worth the investment because I cannot afford to go into debt when I am not guaranteed a future career path.”

The serious uncertainty is warranted, particularly when 62 percent agreed that they “would be willing to take on college debt if guaranteed a good job after graduation.”

It’s Not A Promise Of Having A Good Future

In 2022, the US employment rate stood at 60 percent, offering little reassurance to those hoping for a secure job after their stint at college.

Equally, with the cost of living rising steadily, the reality is that many would-be students would struggle to afford their degree, particularly when they may finish unemployed and in heavy debt. 

Adam Burns, COO of Edge Research, said, “It became very clear to us that just focusing on addressing the financial burdens would not solve the problem of this movement away from postsecondary education.”

More Younger People Need A Strong Support System

The fixation on psychological well-being during a college experience is not a new concept that seems many are concerned about.

Over 70 percent of those in the study agreed that it would be extremely or very helpful to have various assistance offered throughout the college experience.

The suggestions included more education without additional debt, the option to have a financial aid advisor, access to a job counselor and a guidance counselor, free technology, assistance with costs of living, and free classes on managing personal finances.

In a nutshell, it establishes what we already understood: the college experience can incite great psychological pressure, and unless we work toward easing that pressure, would-be students are largely unwilling to test the waters. 

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Uncertainty About The Future

Additionally, only 30 percent of this audience thought that high school prepared them extremely or very well for their next step in life.

Would college be a more appealing option if the experience were discussed in greater depth during school?

Ultimately, for those individuals included in this study, the great question was, does college offer a return on my investment? The would-be students want more. More guidance, more assurance, and ultimately, more return.

In a post-pandemic world where the postsecondary education landscape is shifting, colleges must provide students with resources beyond the degree itself.

For a generation moving from school to the workforce, the additional requirements are seen not just as an incentive but a necessity. 


This article was produced by TPR Teaching.

Caitriona Maria is an education writer and founder of TPR Teaching, crafting inspiring pieces that promote the importance of developing new skills. For 7 years, she has been committed to providing students with the best learning opportunities possible, both domestically and abroad. Dedicated to unlocking students' potential, Caitriona has taught English in several countries and continues to explore new cultures through her travels.

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