Two-Thirds of College Students Disapprove of the Economy

Another 78% of students surveyed say inflation in the U.S. is bad or very bad.
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Lyss Welding
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Higher Education Research Analyst

Lyss Welding is a higher education analyst and senior editor for BestColleges who specializes in translating massive data sets and finding statistics that matter to students. Lyss has worked in academic research, curriculum design, and program evalua...
Published on May 2, 2024
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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...
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Data Summary

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    4 in 10 college students (40%) say the state of employment is bad or very bad.
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    Nearly half of students (46%) say the availability of high-paying jobs is bad or very bad.
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    2 in 3 students (66%) believe it takes multiple incomes to make a good living.
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    64% of students say college graduates need more than a degree to secure a job after graduation.
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    63% remain confident in finding a job using their degree.
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    62% would consider a job outside of their chosen field if it offered higher pay.

This spring, the class of 2024 will graduate in a world where student loan debt is at a record high of $1.6 trillion, the average one-bedroom apartment rents for over $1,500 per month, and inflation remains stubbornly high.Note Reference [1], Note Reference [2] What's not on the rise? Students' sentiments about the economy and high-paying job prospects after college.

Among the 1,000 current undergraduate and graduate students BestColleges surveyed, roughly two-thirds (65%) categorize the current state of the economy as bad or very bad. Twenty-two percent say the economy is acceptable, and just 13% say it's doing well.

Almost 8 in 10 college students (78%) additionally say inflation is bad or very bad.

Compared to their opinions of inflation, students are more likely to approve of the state of employment, which the survey defined as people who want jobs can find jobs. Though 4 in 10 students (40%) disapprove, about one-third (32%) say employment is acceptable, and 28% say it is good or very good.

However, nearly half of students (46%) disapprove of the availability of high-paying jobs.

Generation Z students are more likely than millennials to disapprove of inflation and the availability of high-paying jobs.

Eight in 10 Gen Z students (80%) call inflation bad or very bad, compared to 68% of millennials. Nearly half of Gen Z (47%) versus 39% of millennials disapprove of the availability of high-paying jobs.

Additionally, women and humanities majors see slimmer job prospects than men and STEM or business students.

Over half of women (51%) and 38% of men say the availability of high-paying jobs is bad or very bad. Over half of humanities students (51%) say that the availability of high-paying jobs is bad or very bad compared to 44% of STEM and 38% of business students.

The economy weighs heavily on students' minds ahead of the November 2024 presidential election. Almost half of students (46%) identify the economy, employment, or inflation as one of the issues most important to them.

Forty-two percent blame President Biden for the current state of the economy, and 35% blame Democrats. Fewer students (27%) blame Republicans or the Federal Reserve, and 20% are unsure who is mainly responsible.

Students Say Success Today Takes More Than One Job

According to surveyed college students, one job just doesn't cut it these days. Two in three students (66%) believe that today, it takes more than one income stream to make a good living.

Women are more likely than men to say people today need multiple income streams to make a good living (72% vs. 59%). In fact, women make 80-84 cents to a man's dollar, and the gender pay gap only widens with higher levels of educational attainment.

Besides having multiple income streams, college students say there's another way folks must exceed yesteryears' status quo to manage in today's economy. Nearly two-thirds (64%) say that college graduates need more than a degree (e.g., internships, extracurriculars, or work experience during college) to get hired after graduating.

The survey responses indicate a troubling catch. While a college degree has become the minimum requirement for many jobs, it might not be enough. Without an affordable path to a degree, individuals can get stuck in an impossible choice: to settle for lower-paying jobs with less socioeconomic mobility or take on potentially insurmountable student debt.

Still, Students Stay Confident in the Opportunities Their Degrees Afford

Some brighter news for current students — and for higher education: Students are still more likely than not to believe that the value of a college degree is strong.

Thirty-seven percent call the value of a college degree good or very good, 38% say it's acceptable, and one-quarter (25%) say it's bad or very bad.

In addition, 63% of students say they're confident in finding a job using their degree. Six in 10 (60%) agree there are many job opportunities in their chosen field after graduation. And 62% hold out hope for changing direction if a job outside their chosen field offers higher pay.

Humanities students were less optimistic than their STEM and business student peers.

Fifty-six percent of humanities students say they are confident in finding a job using their degrees compared to 68% of STEM and business students. Just over half of humanities students (52%) agree that there are many job opportunities in their chosen field, compared to 66% of STEM and 65% of business students.


This survey was conducted from Mar. 20-28, 2024, and was fielded by Pure Spectrum. Survey participants included 1,000 respondents nationwide who were currently enrolled in an on-campus (52%), online (16%), or hybrid (32%) undergraduate or graduate degree program. Respondents were 18-62 years of age, with the majority (77%) ages 18-24, and currently pursuing 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.

A note on gender: BestColleges also surveyed non-binary/gender-nonconforming students, but did not surface enough participants in this group to reliably report on their responses.


  1. Rent Trends in the United States. April 2024. (back to footnote 1 in content ⤶)
  2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 12-Month Percentage Change, Consumer Price Index, Selected Categories. April 2024. (back to footnote 2 in content ⤶)