High School Graduates Are Saying No to College. Here’s Why.

A recent study found that less than a quarter of students consider getting a college degree as a top priority over the next few years. College affordability is a big factor.
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  • Fifty-five percent of high school graduates either have no plans to attend college or are uncertain that they will ever attend.
  • Graduates are significantly more likely to consider mental health and financial stability a top priority over a college degree.
  • Affordability concerns continue to be the primary driver for graduates deciding not to attend or return to college.

The majority of high school graduates are either uncertain about their plans or don't have any plans to further their education, according to a new study for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

That leaves just 46% of high school graduates who say they definitely plan on going to college or finishing their degree, the study reveals.

The study, conducted by Edge Research and HCM Strategists for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, surveyed 1,675 high school graduates ages 18-30 who have decided not to go to college or dropped out of their two-year or four-year programs.

Researchers found that even among students who are definitely planning to go to college, those who have already started their higher education journey are most likely to say they have definite plans to go back.

Overall, few former students consider getting a college degree a top priority over the next few years (24%).

Instead, the majority of graduates consider positive mental health (62%) and financial stability (56%) as top goals for the near future.

Whether they have set plans for college or not, graduates are most likely to feel hopeful (35%) and uncertain (31%) about the future. And that uncertainty is one of the top reasons graduates consider forgoing college altogether.

Though affordability continues to be a top driver of graduates' not wanting to attend college (38%), graduates also point to stress (27%), the need to make money (26%), and feeling unsure about what type of career they want (25%) as primary reasons for not enrolling or returning to school.

Additional reasons graduates cited for not wanting to attend or return to college included not feeling prepared for the college experience or living alone (13%), not feeling academically prepared (13%), not feeling like they did or would fit in (13%), and not feeling like they were or would be supported while in school (11%).

This data falls in line with other recent studies on high school graduates as young adults have increasingly expressed dwindling views of higher education.

A recent report from ECMC Group revealed that less than half of current high school students (48%) plan to pursue a four-year degree. An even smaller percentage of these students (45%) believe a postsecondary education is necessary at all.

Yet another report found that Gen Z students are also the least likely of any generation to say theytrust U.S. colleges and universities.

According to the Edge Research/HCM Strategists report, the main factors that graduates would find helpful if they choose to attend college would be addressing the financial and affordability concerns they face.

If schools want to attract and retain more graduates in the next few years, they will need to give would-be students a variety of affordable options and financial assistance as well as the flexibility to create an educational journey that best suits their lifestyle.