69% of Students Say You Don’t Need College to Be Successful

A BestColleges survey reveals that students view a traditional college education as just one of many possible paths to success.

Published September 14, 2022

69% of Students Say You Don’t Need College to Be Successful
Survey Reports
Photo by Paul Bradbury / OJO Images / Getty Images

  • 74% of students also believe a college education shouldn't be necessary to achieve success.
  • College students who aren't first-generation are more likely to believe college is just one path to success among many.
  • Students of different backgrounds generally agree that college isn't necessary to succeed.

As the popularity of nondegree pathways grows, the importance of a traditional college education may be waning.

In a new BestColleges survey of 1,000 current and prospective undergraduate and graduate students, 69% say they believe you can be successful without a college education.

Instead, most students (74%) say college is just one option among many possible paths to success.

The majority of students (64%) additionally believe that a college education shouldn't be necessary to be successful. Just 14% of students disagree.

There are some notable demographic differences in students' opinions on college and success.

Students who currently reside in the West (79%) are more likely than those residing in the South (65%), Midwest (61%), and Northeast (77%) to believe that you can be successful without a college education.

First-generation college students are less likely than those whose parents went to college to say college is just one option among many possible paths to success (70% vs. 80%).

Otherwise, the majority of students across racial/ethnic groups and genders agree that attending college is not, nor should it be, necessary to succeed in life.

During the past few years, students have increasingly shown that they are willing to stray from the traditional path to success.

A recent report 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.

Gen Z students are also the least likely of any generation to say they trust U.S. colleges and universities.

As students' views on college continue to decline and their trust in higher education fades, an emphasis on skills-based learning is starting to take precedence. A 2021 survey of high school students found that the majority of students (58%) believe a skills-based education makes sense in today's world.

Further, former students who have obtained both a degree and a nondegree credentialor skills-based certification see more value in their education than those who only obtained a degree.

Even employers have recently begun to abandon degree requirements in favor of skills-based hiring, opening up tons of opportunities for job-seekers without degrees.

As students continue to see the value in nontraditional education paths and believe that college is not the only path to achieving success, schools will have to do more to attract and retain young students. One way to do this is by addressing affordability concerns, which Americans say is the most important factor to consider when choosing a college.

Methodology

The survey was conducted from July 7-13, 2022. Student respondents were fielded by Lucid LLC. Survey participants included 1,000 respondents nationwide who were currently enrolled in or planning to enroll in an undergraduate or graduate degree program at a college or university in the next 12 months. Respondents were 16-65 years of age and currently pursuing or planning to pursue an associate, bachelor's, master's, doctoral, or professional degree. The respondents for the survey were screened by various quality checks, including systems like Relevant ID, and responses were manually reviewed to ensure consistency and accuracy.