Amid COVID-19 Chaos, Fewer US Students Pursue University

A recent survey of American high school students shows less enthusiasm for college as the only path to a good job.The decline in interest was attributed to a year of school closures because of the COVID-19 pandemic, contentious political contests, racial incidents that highlighted divisions in American society, and the high price tag of higher education.Just one-fourth of the 3,202 high school students polled over the past year by the ECMC Group, in partnership with VICE Media, saw college or university as the only road to a good job.Teens said they wanted their high schools to provide more information about a variety of postsecondary options. While the majority of those polled said they wanted to forge their own path, they were not sure where those routes started and where they might lead.Half the students surveyed said they thought they could achieve professional success with three years or less of education.“High school students and their families have faced a great deal of change in their lives over the past year, which is translating into uncertainty as they look to their career paths,” Jeremy Wheaton, president and CEO of ECMC Group, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit focused on higher education, stated in a press release.“While this shift in mindset isn’t surprising, it is up to us as leaders and mentors to educate learners about their future opportunities, which includes raising awareness about the variety of postsecondary learning options that are available.”Teens cited the cost of college and university as their No. 1 complaint about higher education. No. 2 was the uncertain road after high school to a future career. No. 3 was not feeling prepared for work after school.Other findings showed that teens wanted the government and private companies to provide education, funding for education, and debt forgiveness.More than half of the respondents said COVID-19 created anxiety about their future, and they did not feel prepared for the next level. The financial impact of the pandemic made it less likely they would attend a four-year college and less likely to pursue education beyond high school.The first survey of 1,177 high school students was conducted February 25-March 2, 2020; the second survey of 1,025 high school students was conducted May 14-20, 2020; the third survey of 1,001 high school students was conducted January 4-19, 2021.

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