Community college and career opportunities becoming a higher priority for high schoolers

Most teens firmly believe in the importance of a four-year college degree, but they're becoming increasingly open-minded toward other postsecondary opportunities, a new survey suggests.

Time and time again, Gen Z students share their thoughts on whether they intend to pursue an education beyond high school, a statistic that often changes depending on the current climate. For instance, the pandemic caused many students to rethink their postsecondary decisions. Similarly, a recent report from the American School Counselor Association revealed that more than one-fourth of the graduating class of 2023 reported having doubts about college. Now, the latest snapshot offers some new insight on this topic that leaders should know.

A survey released this week by ECMC Group, a nonprofit that invests in educational opportunities for students, reveals that more students ages 14-18 are considering educational opportunities beyond high school similar to pre-pandemic levels. However, they recommend that these opportunities be redesigned to fit modern ideals surrounding postsecondary education.

According to the survey, 65% of Gen Z teens say education after high school is necessary, compared to 45% in January of 2021. However, nearly 50% believe the ideal postsecondary education should last three years or fewer. Thirty-five percent would rather it last two years or fewer.

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Similarly, the number of students considering community college has increased from 20% in 2020 to 25% in 2023. And less than half (40%) of students believe they need four years of postsecondary education to be successful, which remains consistent with pandemic levels.

Students also shared what they cite as the most impactful factors influencing their decision to pursue a college degree, which includes:

  • The career they want to pursue
  • Long-term earning potential
  • Mental health
  • Direct pathways into careers
  • Cost of tuition

Additionally, respondents said they’d like more help from their high school teachers and staff. As the data suggests, 63% said they wish their high school would provide more resources on finances, including how to manage debt and pay for college. Another 48% wished their high school offered additional guidance on pathways after high school, which includes which postsecondary options and career opportunities are available.

“We must be responsive to the factors that today’s students care about most—matters like costs, career connections and basic needs support—and work to design postsecondary pathways that will lead them to success,” said Jacob Fraire, president of the ECMC Foundation in a statement.

Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a University Business staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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