Life after High School: Young People Talk About Their Hopes and Prospects

Matthew Malaise

Public Agenda
March 2005

In its latest survey, Public Agenda has taken a long look at what factors contribute to a student's decision to continue on to higher education. While the "overwhelming majority of young adults recognize the value of higher education," the reality is that one in three students don't continue their education after high school, and many who do never graduate. Not surprisingly, students cite the high cost of schooling as the major impediment. Nearly 60 percent of African-American and Hispanic students say they would have chosen a different institution had money not been an issue, and many students in these groups are far less confident that they can find the resources to attend college. Parent pressure also plays a significant role in the decision to pursue a college degree. You may not be surprised to learn that 86 percent of Asian-American students say "their parents strongly expect them to go to college," while other ethnic groups report lower percentages. For those who chose not to pursue higher education, most said they would prefer to "work and make money" immediately, and the report paints an interesting picture of the high school student who drifts into low-paying work after graduation not out of conscious choice, but because of a "let the chips fall where they may" attitude. It's an interesting survey, albeit one that highlights the limits of "values and attitudes" polling in constructing public policy. Namely: what if students are wrong, or only partially correct, when they cite money as the greatest impediment to college? All the loans and grants in the world won't make up for the failure of our K-12 system to prepare many students to succeed in college. Read it at http://www.publicagenda.org/research/pdfs/life_after_high_school_execsum.pdf.

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