Only a shocking 8 percent of surveyed students say they feel fully prepared to make the decision of what to do after high school.

Fewer than half of underserved students believe post-high school education is necessary


Only a shocking 8 percent of surveyed students say they feel fully prepared to make the decision of what to do after high school

As school district leaders continue to worry about students’ college and career readiness, a new survey finds that less than half of students from traditionally underserved populations believe education after high school is necessary.

The new survey conducted by ECMC Group, in partnership with VICE Media Group, surveyed more than 1,000 high school students ages 14-18 from low-income, first-generation and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) backgrounds and found that only 45 percent believe education after high school is necessary, compared to 52 percent of all high schoolers.

In addition, only 8 percent feel fully prepared to make the decision of what to do after high school.

This study is the latest in a series of national surveys conducted since February 2020 to uncover insights from high schoolers about their academic and career plans after high school. The previous five surveys gathered information from a cross-section of more than 5,000 students from across the country.

The latest survey, conducted in October 2022, focused specifically on gathering insights from historically underserved high school student populations. The data is part of ECMC Group’s Question The Quo campaign, designed to empower Gen Z teens to take the education and career path that is right for them.

“This latest round of data provides a clearer picture of the issues and barriers faced by our most under-resourced students as they seek to determine their future trajectory,” said Dan Fisher, president and CEO of ECMC Group. “With this information, we have an opportunity to not only hear the concerns but develop solutions that will enable these students to persist and thrive in the future.” 

The survey also found that 83 percent of students surveyed feel pressure—often self-directed—to pursue a four-year degree, but more than half (53 percent) are open to a path other than four-year college, and nearly 60 percent believe they can be successful without a four-year degree.

As they ponder their future, most would like their high school to provide guidance on questions about finances (62 percent), support for their mental and physical health (48 percent), identifying postsecondary education options (46 percent), and managing future debt (37 percent) or handling unexpected costs (37 percent).

“Students from underserved communities are looking at education through a practical lens,” said Fisher. “They want to know what the cost is, how they’re going to pay, how they will get through everyday life and whether there’s a job at the end of the road.”

Students from underserved populations feel unprepared to make decisions about their future

The study found that 86 percent of students surveyed think about their future path at least weekly (52 percent think about it every day) and 59 percent have a career path in mind, but few are receiving the guidance they need to make an informed decision.

Only about one-third of students surveyed have been offered a program that helps them explore careers; 38 percent have taken a class on career exploration, and only 41% of students attend high schools that provide college fairs.

When thinking about their future, more than half look to their family to provide information, 48 percent seek insight from teachers and counselors, and 36 percent turn to friends and classmates.

Students from underserved populations are focused on ensuring their ability to meet their basic needs

The survey found that underserved students put basic needs at the top of their decision-making criteria:

  • 75 percent listed mental health in their top decision-making criteria for choosing a path after high school
  • When asked about their top three needs in making a decision about their post-high school education:
    • 43 percent listed “I need to be able to feed myself”
    • 34 percent listed “I need to have safe housing”
    • 31 percent listed “I need to be able to take care of my physical health”

In addition, 48 percent wish their high school provided more guidance on managing their health (physical/mental).

Students from underserved populations are concerned about the cost of education after high school

The cost of education after high school is a key concern for these populations:

  • 70 percent listed the cost of tuition in their top decision-making criteria for choosing a path after high school
  • 56 percent worry about how they will pay for college

The most common areas where students lack the financial information they need include:

  • Scholarships available to them (43 percent)
  • Earning potential based on different career paths (38 percent)
  • Jobs they should consider to help manage costs while attending school (37 percent)
  • Average costs they will have to pay outside of tuition (33 percent)

In addition, 65 percent would choose a career they are passionate about over one that provides a high salary.

Even among underserved populations, there are differences in education and career outlook

  • Low-income students are least likely to consider four-year degrees
  • First-generation students are most likely to have started career exploration in high school
  • First-generation students are more worried about costs outside of tuition
  • BIPOC students have the lowest understanding of the income/cost tradeoff of pursuing a career over pursuing education immediately after high school
  • Low-income students feel more strongly about postsecondary education requiring less time to complete
  • First-generation students are most likely to believe the government has a role in funding education
  • First-generation students are most concerned about how they will pay for education

Additional findings include:

Careers are top-of-mind for low-income, first-generation and BIPOC students

  • 57 percent started exploring career options in high school
  • 78 percent say it’s important or very important to have career plans determined when they graduate from high school

Shorter, career-focused education pathways make sense for underserved students

  • 55 percent said their post-high school education should last less than four years
    • 39 percent said post-high school education should be two years or less
  • 33 percent say post-high school education should only include subjects directly related to their program/major
  • 58 percent say a skills-based education makes sense
  • 32 percent say education would be better in several short experiences over a lifetime vs. one longer experience
  • Because of the pandemic, 34 percent feel more comfortable with following a path other than four-year college

Low-income, first-gen and BIPOC students believe the government and businesses have a role to play in their education

  • 46 percent say the government should provide additional money to pay off student loans
    • 40 percent say the government should subsidize/pay for education
  • 40 percent say businesses should provide formal education
    • 38 percent say businesses should provide additional money to pay off student loans

Related:
4 ways to address learning gaps for underserved students
Problem-based learning helped boost my underserved students’ engagement

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