A new survey emphasizes the critical importance of enhancing the postsecondary career and engagement of the future workforce.

More high school grads are rejecting 4-year pathways

In light of talent shortages and unemployment, a new survey emphasizes the critical importance of enhancing the education and engagement of the future workforce

Key points:

  • More than half of surveyed students say they will opt out of the traditional four-year undergraduate path
  • This decision to pursue alternative post-secondary options hints at an evolving postsecondary landscape.
  • See related article: Companies go to high schools for career training
  • For more news on career readiness, visit eSN’s Innovative Teaching page page

A significant trend is growing among high school graduates in the class of 2023, with 55 percent opting out of the traditional four-year college route, according to a new survey from YouScience, a technology provider dedicated to solving the skills gap crisis for students and employers. The findings from YouScience’s second annual national 2023 Post-Graduation Readiness Report.

Comparatively, for graduates spanning the 2019-22 classes, this figure stood at 48 percent, signaling a noteworthy transformation within the education landscape. This paradigm shift highlights a growing sentiment among recent high school graduates, who are increasingly questioning the value of pursuing a conventional four-year college degree and exploring alternative pathways.

The report, based on a nationwide online survey encompassing more than 500 students from the high school graduating classes of 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023, highlights the evolving trajectories of postsecondary education, the driving forces behind these changes, and the growing necessity for more personalized guidance in today’s swiftly evolving educational and workforce environments.

In a time when industry leaders grapple with talent shortages and nearly six million Americans remain unemployed, this survey emphasizes the critical importance of enhancing the education and engagement of our future workforce. 

Key findings of the report include:

The decision to pursue alternative postsecondary options hints at an evolving postsecondary landscape. Twenty-seven percent of respondents in the class of 2023 reported attending a 2-year college, while 13 percent are working as part of a career plan, 9 percent have no plan, 7 percent are attending trade or technical school, 8 percent are taking time off and/or gap year(s) and 5 percent are joining the military. 

There’s a pressing need to raise awareness of the variety of postsecondary career or educational opportunities at the high school level. Thirty percent of the class of 2023 graduates were unaware of available career and technical education (CTE) programs. A breakdown in student-educator communication may be a factor behind the lack of CTE program awareness. 

Sixty-five percent of the Class of 2023 graduates had five or fewer conversations with teachers or counselors about post-high school choices, and high school graduates feel uncertain about their current chosen pathways. Nearly one-third (31 percent) of the class of 2023 are not sure they are where they want to be in their education or career path. Thirty-four percent of those who graduated from 2020-22 expressed similar uncertainty.

Sixty-four percent of students who graduated from high school from 2020-23, reported changing their major since their initial selection and 45 percent reported changing their major two or more times. 

During their middle and high school years, students are encouraged to shape their educational and career paths through courses that provide a foundational knowledge base. However, a common issue arises when students make these decisions without a clear understanding of their own strengths, often resulting in post-graduation dissatisfaction and disengagement.

The research also found that for two consecutive years:

  • Eighty-three percent of respondents wished they understood their natural aptitudes better, as it would have increased their engagement in learning
  • Only 33 percent of the class of 2023, unfortunately, reported regular exposure to various post-graduation career options. This highlights a gap in exposing students to various education and career choices.

“Empowering students with a deeper understanding of their unique strengths enables them to proactively plan their future and make well-informed post-graduation decisions,” said Edson Barton, Founder and CEO of YouScience. “Our research highlights the urgency of providing students with more individualized guidance and exposure to diverse pathways. By arming our students with aptitude-based guidance and insight into a wider variety of potential careers. earlier and more effectively, we can instill the confidence needed to navigate through high school, postsecondary and career, and ultimately set them up for future success.”

To address the need for more personalized student pathways and guidance YouScience offers the following recommendations: 

  • Utilize aptitude and interest assessments
  • Institute collaborative planning
  • Use interdisciplinary teaching approaches
  • Introduce career-connected learning 
  • Utilize education-to-career tools and solutions
  • Leverage industry-recognized certifications 
  • Implement work-based learning, internships, and apprenticeships

This press release originally appeared online.

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Laura Ascione
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