Students value college, but many don’t go

Lack of motivation and money stop high school students from attending college.
Thursday, February 10, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:03 a.m. CDT, Saturday, June 28, 2008

Young adults value college, but many haven’t enrolled because of money woes, poor preparation, low expectations at home or sheer laziness, a survey found.

The result is that seven in 10 young workers without college degrees say they are in their jobs by chance, not by choice. Fewer than two in 10 view their jobs as likely careers.

Overall, most adults ages 18 to 25 see college as a way to earn society’s respect and ensure financial security, says the survey by Public Agenda, a nonpartisan public opinion group. The positive view of college is true regardless of race, ethnicity or family income.

“Most young people have absorbed the ‘Go to college, get more education’ message,” said Ruth Wooden, the Public Agenda president. “Whether they’re getting the nuts-and-bolts, real-life help and guidance they need to reach that goal — to actually succeed in graduating from college — is another matter.”

Roughly one in three young Americans do not go on to any form of higher education, and many of those who enroll don’t end up graduating, the report says, quoting Census Bureau figures.

Other recent analysis offer even lower rates of college enrollment and completion, which has helped fuel a national interest in improving the rigor of high school. Those who graduate from a four-year college tend to have lower unemployment and higher earnings.

The new findings come from random phone interviews of 1,000 young adults last year, plus oversampling to ensure representation of black, Hispanic and Asian adults. The tally includes those with college degrees, college students, college dropouts and full-time workers.

Almost half of those who never enrolled or dropped out said college wasn’t for them because they wanted to work and make money. Almost as many said they couldn’t afford college.

Yet by age 33, the typical college graduate has earned enough to compensate for both the cost of attending a four-year public school and for earnings passed up during the college years, said Gaston Caperton, president of the nonprofit College Board.

“We need to address disconcerting evidence that the cost of higher education is a deterrent, and in some cases a deal-breaker, for many students,” Caperton said.

There are other obstacles, too.

Almost eight in 10 adults without a college degree acknowledged they could have paid a lot more attention and worked harder in high school. More than half said their high school teachers made it easy to do just enough to get by.

And only 32 percent of young adults without a degree said parents strongly expected them to go to college — a huge gap from the 67 percent with degrees who got such encouragement.

The survey’s margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Among other findings:

  • Almost nine in 10 young adults expect their financial circumstances to improve by age 30, and most of them expect that improvement to be significant.
  • Three in four young Asian-American adults think they will be financially better off than their parents, and almost as many blacks and Hispanics say the same about themselves. Not as many white adults — 57 percent — are as optimistic.
  • Almost nine in 10 young adults agreed “college is not for everyone,” and more than eight in 10 said many people do succeed without a college education.
  • About one out of every two students said there were too few counselors in their high school, and only a slight majority said counselors made an effort to really get to know them.

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