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Fewer Students of Color from Underserved Backgrounds Want to Go to College. Here's Why

March 10, 2023

The following article is from USA Today.

Despite attending college readiness courses since eighth grade, Tonia Bloomingberg decided against a traditional four-year college path.

Now a community college student studying data analytics in Houston, Bloomingberg said more teens should keep their options open when choosing a path after high school, especially as the price of a college degree skyrockets.

"I saw myself pursuing a further education, but I just didn't know what it looked like for me," she said. "So I felt community college was the best place to start."

Looming decisions about what to do after high school are weighing on Missouri City, Texas, high school senior Jayden Nguyen. At 18, he doesn't feel well prepared to decide what to do after he graduates, nor does he know what all of his options are.

"It just feels like everyone's assuming that I'm going to college...But realistically, I never really felt that pressure to go to college all that much," Nguyen said at SXSW EDU, a conference in Austin, Texas, this week featuring education thought leaders, experts, educators and students, including Bloomingberg, who spoke during a discussion panel about what students want out of postsecondary education.

Sixty percent of high school students from underserved backgrounds don't see earning a college degree as necessary to ensure a successful future, according to a new national survey.

Overall, fewer high school students of color, students from low-income communities or first-generation families want to go to a four-year college compared with other students, according to the results of the survey from the ECMC Group and VICE Media Group. ECMC works on improving higher education for students from underserved populations.

What do teens think about college?

A majority of the 1,020 high school students surveyed said they're unprepared for college, unsure what they will do after high school and are thinking about how they will meet their basic needs while paying for college if they attend. They're considering other options, including career and technical programs, certification programs or getting jobs.

"It's my suspicion that for the very first time, in a way that is overdue, the promise of college has now been broken," said Hudson Baird, co-founder and executive director of the Texas-based nonprofit organization PelotonU in the Hybrid College Network,. "You always thought 'Just go to college and you'll be good.' And that hasn't been true for decades. But now everyone knows it."

What the students said about college

  • On the appeal of college: 45% of students surveyed "believe education after high school is necessary," compared with 52% of all high school students.
  • On paying for college: 70% of students said tuition prices are top of mind when choosing a path after high school, and more than half of all students worry about how they will pay for college;
  • On preparedness: 8% of those surveyed "feel fully prepared to decide what to do after high school"; and
  • On post-high school achievement: 60% of those surveyed believe they "can be successful without a four-year degree."

Dan Fisher, president and CEO of ECMC Group, said he is thinking about how the data can influence the future of postsecondary education.

“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," he said.

What's the future of postsecondary education?

Higher education systems have changed "significantly" over the last two years, said Julie Lammers, a senior vice president for the nonprofit American Student Assistance, during this week's SXSW EDU conference. Many colleges and universities that pivoted to online classes during the pandemic are offering more courses that incorporate virtual learning, for example.

Not everyone wants to revert to the traditional path before the COVID pandemic of going straight from high school into a four-year institution, she said.

"I think we are moving in the direction of 'Is this the new way of the future?' And we need to figure out how to help kids navigate that in a way that gets them to a place of economic prosperity," Lammers said.

Colleges are also being forced to adapt in the face of their new reality: Undergrad enrollment dropped 9% from 2009 to 2020, data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows, although the number of kids enrolling in college is expected to start climbing again over the next decade.

The survey results showed students' top three concerns about deciding what to do after high school are food (43%), safe housing (34%) and physical health (31%). Given the growing costs of higher education, these students are challenging the return on investment of a college degree, Baird said.

Fisher said higher education institutions need to consider the changing landscape of student learning if they want to attract kids coming out of high school.

"I think this younger generation has got these side gigs. They realize they need to be lifelong learners and they're being very creative and innovative with their time," Fisher said. "We need to hear them and listen to them what can do at the stakeholder level."

And Aisha Francis, president and CEO of the Benjamin Franklin Cummings Institute of Technology, said students' futures could largely be in the hands of employers. As more of them accept certificates from career and technical programs as adequate for entry into the workforce, students could move toward that choice, she said.

"Employers are a huge piece in shifting that narrative," Francis said.

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