While college enrollment was on the decline well before the pandemic, drops in recent years have caused particular concern. A new study sheds light on why a crucial pipeline of students — people ages 18 to 30 who graduated from high school — either dropped out of a two- or four-year college or never attended one at all.
Colleges face some stiff challenges in bringing those students to campus, according to a report on the study, “Exploring the Exodus From Higher Education.” What’s keeping them away? Nearly 40 percent of respondents to a survey cited the cost of college. Another reason closely related to that: Roughly one in five young adults say higher education isn’t worth the money.
The study — a partnership between Edge Research, HCM Strategists, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — reflects the responses of 1,675 people in seven states (California, Florida, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington) who were surveyed in the spring of 2022.
Although money was the main obstacle to a college education for the respondents, the solution doesn’t appear to be offering them money, and money alone. Instead, they wanted additional support, such as programs that fit around their schedules, free laptops and internet access, and the availability of academic counselors to help them navigate which classes to take and of career counselors to aid in their job search.
The data also underscore how the education marketplace has shifted in recent years, said Adam Burns, chief operations officer and senior research analyst for Edge Research, during a media call. For instance, nearly 47 percent of the young adults surveyed said they had taken a class offered via YouTube or were currently doing so.
“As we all know,” Burns said, “there are more educational options at people’s disposal than ever before.”
Despite those options, education isn’t necessarily a high priority among this group of potential students. “Being in a good place emotionally” and “feeling financially stable” topped a list of 15 personal goals for the next five years. At the other end of the spectrum was earning a college degree.
Here’s more data on why high-school graduates are opting out of college — and what might entice them to enroll: