Gen Z’s Views on Higher Education Improve Post-Pandemic

Despite this shift, half of Gen Z high schoolers are no longer considering four-year colleges in their post-graduation plans, according to a survey report.
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Jessica Bryant
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Jessica Bryant is a higher education analyst and senior data reporter for BestColleges. She covers higher education trends and data, focusing on issues impacting underserved students. She has a BA in journalism and previously worked with the South Fl...
Published on July 3, 2023
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  • Sixty-five percent of high school students believe pursuing education after high school is necessary.
  • But 63% of high schoolers are open to exploring options other than a four-year college.
  • Among underserved students, the link between access and interest in postsecondary education still persists.
  • Most students anticipate that they will be lifelong learners regardless of what educational path they choose after high school.

Generation Z is finally seeing college in a positive light again, according to a new survey report.

ECMC Group surveyed 1,002 high school students for the latest edition of its ongoing dive into high schoolers' college plans and beliefs and found that nearly 2 in 3 students (65%) believe pursuing further education after high school is necessary.

Just one year prior, only 52% of surveyed students said the same.

Since 2021, the percentage of students who believe in the necessity of an education after high school has increased by 20 percentage points.

Throughout 2020 and 2021, many students' views on education declined due to financial strains brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But even now, as students' intended pursuit of higher education is bouncing back, their educational priorities and plans are continuing to shift.

Fewer students are now considering attending a four-year college or university post-graduation, while a growing number of students are considering community college, on-the-job training, or a technical education.

In total, 63% of high schoolers are now open to exploring options other than a four-year institution — 7 percentage points higher than the number of students who considered this in February 2020, according to the report.

Among students who are from low-income, first-generation, and Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) backgrounds — otherwise known as underserved students — both the necessity of a post-high school education and the intention to attend a four-year college remain low.

Only 45% of underserved students said they believe further education after high school is necessary when surveyed in January 2023. And just 47% said they are considering attending a four-year college.

Unsurprisingly, these students also reported having fewer opportunities at their high school to access career exploration resources like college fairs, questionnaires, and career discovery programs.

Regardless of what Gen Z high school students are considering pursuing after graduating, the vast majority still feel pressured to pursue a traditional four-year degree.

For the three-quarters of students (75%) who report feeling pressured, more than half say they are putting pressure on themselves.

Gen Z High Schoolers Expect Continued Learning Throughout Life

The majority of surveyed students report that their ideal post-high school learning environment would be hands-on in a lab or classroom (67%) or on-the-job through internships or apprenticeships (65%).

But regardless of what they choose, nearly half still anticipate that they will need to pursue additional education or training in a new career or field within 10 years.

An even larger percentage of students (70%) also believe they will need to continue learning throughout their lifetime.

As students continue to express an increased desire for hands-on, practical learning experiences, institutions and employers will need to enhance these types of offerings to attract them.