Students drift away from college as on-the-job training gains popularity

A recent study reveals that over 80% of high school students prioritize on-the-job training over other postsecondary options, highlighting their preference for immediate employment and their low regard for a college education.

Commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the study surveyed more than 1,700 high school juniors and seniors, with 83% emphasizing professional development leading to a job, contrasting with 72% valuing a four-year degree.

Conducted in partnership with HCM Strategists and Edge Research, the study also included more than 3,000 non-enrolled adults aged 18-30 who opted out of college or discontinued their postsecondary education.

Both demographic segments not only prioritize on-the-job training but also acknowledge the value of licenses and professional certificates.

A panel of experts convened recently to dissect the study’s outcomes, expressing concerns over the diminishing enthusiasm among high schoolers and non-enrolled adults for pursuing a college education.

“This is a pressing concern for us because our primary objective is quite simple,” stated Patrick Methvin, director of pathways and postsecondary success strategies at the Gates Foundation. “It is to significantly enhance opportunities for the economic advancement of Americans and eradicate race, ethnicity, and income as determinants of student success.”

Methvin added, “Given that we understand a postsecondary credential as the most reliable pathway towards that goal, these shifting attitudes are worrisome.”

Despite the proven value of a college degree, Methvin highlighted that high schoolers’ declining trust is influenced by negative media coverage, such as the Supreme Court ruling against race-conscious college admissions affecting campus diversity, coupled with the burden of student loan debt.

Nevertheless, Methvin maintained that a college education remains the most advantageous option.

“People are exposed to varying sources of information that heavily influence their decision-making,” Methvin remarked.

This research builds upon a study from fall 2022, which analyzed the declining enrollment rates in higher education.

“The narrative about the postsecondary value has long circulated within policymaking circles, but what’s intriguing about this research is that we’re now hearing the same sentiments directly from students themselves,” Methvin observed. “They are discussing value and return on investment in ways that were uncommon a decade ago.”

Here are four primary insights gleaned from the report:

1. High schoolers and non-enrolled adults prioritize on-the-job training above all other postsecondary choices.

2. High schoolers attach greater importance to a college education regarding future job prospects and income.

3. The significance of a college degree has decreased among non-enrolled adults compared to the 2022 fall cohort surveyed.

4. Most non-enrolled adults perceive more value in licenses, professional certificates, and trade schools than a traditional four-year degree.

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