ECMC Group, along with VICE Media, conducted five national “Question the Quo Education Pulse” surveys among 5,000+ high school students between 2020-2022. The surveys are part of ECMC Group’s Question the Quo campaign, which works to empower students to explore higher education options and find a fulfilling career path that fits their personal interests and goals.
The study confirmed that high schoolers (ages 14-18) are highly aware of current, in-demand occupations and how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the job market. This historical event has led students to evaluate their postsecondary options and make career decisions based on today’s job market.
A Promising Outlook on CTE
- Half of the teens surveyed are no longer considering attending a four-year college and less than half think a four-year degree is necessary to be successful. However, 85% felt pressure to attend a four-year school, yet less than half felt prepared for higher education after high school, even as most schools have returned to a pre-pandemic way of life. They believe postsecondary education is not a way to find a career, but to refine and pursue career options. Students expect employers to play a role in their ongoing education as learning is a lifelong endeavor.
- On a brighter note, career and technical education (CTE) is gaining awareness with over half of the students surveyed knowing what the term meant. This is a 13% increase from when the first survey was conducted in 2020.
- The Gen Zers are open to pathways other than a four-year college and almost three-quarters of them think it is imperative to have their career plans determined by the time they graduate high school. If students pursue postsecondary education, they want a direct path to a career.
Eliminating Cost Concerns
- A majority of those surveyed believe the government (91%) and employers (85%) need to play a role in postsecondary education by providing formal education and additional money to pay off student loan debt.
- Students today are more interested in connecting skills rather than degrees to jobs with over 80% stating that learning the skills they need to succeed is a crucial factor in their decision about postsecondary education. This includes skill-based education (ex: trade skills, nursing, STEM, etc.), apprenticeships, or several short (one year or less) experiences over a lifetime versus a traditional four-year college experience.
- Cost is still a major factor in the decision-making process and is further exacerbated by socioeconomic differences and income inequality. Almost 60% worry about how they will pay for college and students from lower-income households are less likely to consider higher education and have less access to career exploration resources.
The results indicate that teens have a pulse on current jobs and economic outlook, which is pushing them to make real-world choices that benefit them immediately rather than far off into the future.
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