SURVEY: Middle schoolers' perceived importance of college has dropped drastically since 2019

Over half of middle school students believe that work experience is necessary to be successful while 38% of middle schoolers believe a college degree ensures success.

Most millennials and members of Generation Z believe a college degree isn’t required to be successful in the real world, the research company YPulse found.

Generation Z is less likely to say they plan on attending college today compared to 2019, according to a survey by the research company YPulse. 

All surveyed middle school and high school students reported in 2019 that they planned on attending college, according to YPulse. But that number dropped to 85% in 2020 at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, falling to 82% in 2021 and 84% in 2022.

YPulse surveyed 1,500 people each year who are between the ages of 13 and 39, which encompasses both Generation Y (known as millennials) as well as Generation Z.

About 57% of middle school students said work experience is more important to their success than a college degree, compared to 48% who said a high school diploma or GED is necessary and 38% who said a college degree matters most.

In 2022 about 68% of Gen Z and 72% of millennials agreed with the statement: “I don’t need a college degree to be successful.” Only 43% of Gen Z and 57% of millennials agreed with that same statement in 2019. About 63% of middle school students in 2022 say that they do not need a degree to be successful.

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Only 23% of middle school students felt they needed a master’s degree to be successful, 11% felt they needed a PhD, and 8% felt they needed a degree from an Ivy League school in order to be successful. About 33% said that “connections through networking relationships” and 24% said that internships are key to being successful.

YPulse found that 74% of Gen Z students wished they learned more about alternative career paths compared to a traditional college education.

While the vast majority of Gen Z do still plan to go to college, a sizable percentage of this gen is considering other ways to forge their future,” the report states. “By prioritizing work experience over higher education, our data shows Gen Z is weighing the prospects of debt, the skills they can find elsewhere, and their career interests carefully.” 

When YPulse asked “If you wanted to learn something new, what resources would you use?” middle, high school, and college students were more likely to choose Google and YouTube over a teacher.  

The consulting firm EAB found in June that college enrollment fell by about one million students nationwide after the COVID-19 pandemic. About 20% of survey respondents said they don’t feel higher education is worth the cost compared to 8% in 2019, EAB’s findings reveal.

Daniel Buck, a fellow at the Fordham Institute suggests that schools are lowering their standards to raise their graduation rates in order to make up for the shortage of students. On X, formerly known as Twitter, he said, “Test scores are at record lows but grades are at all-time highs. Honestly, the only explanation is that schools are lying.” 

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Buck referenced a Los Angeles Times article reporting that 73% of Los Angeles Unified School District students in 11th grade received either an A, B, or C in math, yet only 19% met grade-level standards. The article also shows similar statistics for eighth-grade math students and sixth- and seventh-grade English students.

In Indiana, about 53% of 2021 high school graduates enrolled immediately in college after graduation compared to 65% in 2015, the Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education revealed in July. The report also states the national college enrollment rate fell by 7% from 2016 to 2020. 

Campus Reform contacted YPulse and will update this article accordingly. 

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