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Potential College Students Are Telling Us What They Need — It’s Our Job To Make It Happen

Many people who are not in college or certificate programs today want to enroll, but struggle to because of the economy and the pandemic. Over a third of those currently enrolled say that it is very difficult to stay in their programs.

These are findings from a new survey by Gallup and Lumia, and they make it clear that while college enrollments are down across the country, that’s not because people don’t value a college education or what it can offer. Instead, it’s because enrolling and staying in college has gotten harder. 

The details tell us a lot about the ways in which higher education is desired, but inaccessible.

Higher Education Is Most Wanted By The People Most Shut Out

“Members of groups historically underrepresented in higher education are more likely than their peers to report they have considered reenrolling,” the report notes. “Black and multiracial adults are most likely to report they have considered reenrolling, at 51%, while white (44%) and Asian (39%) adults are less likely.”

Those traditionally kept out of higher education are more likely to see the value of it, but also report having the hardest time accessing it. “In 2019,” the report says, “Gallup found that 51% of all U.S. adults viewed a college education as very important, but Black (65%) and Hispanic (66%) adults were notably more likely to report a college education was very important than white adults (44%).”

People Want Fast, Practical, Degrees and Certificates

Forty-four percent of all adults not currently enrolled in higher education say they have thought about doing so, and the education they’re thinking about most is the kind you can put to work most quickly.

“Across all groups,” the report says, “associate degrees are the most considered degree/program, with 20% of all individuals who are not currently enrolled reporting they have considered an associate degree. Industry certificates are also popular prospects, with 19% of all U.S. adults not currently enrolled reporting they have considered a certificate in the past two years.”

College Is Not Accessible To The People Who Need It Most

If people want to go to college so much, what’s stopping them? The three biggest reasons identified by the survey are: cost, family responsibilities, and health concerns.

“Cost is the most significant factor,” the survey says, but other concerns add up too. Health concerns at this scale are relatively new and come from the pandemic: going to class carries a lot more risks now than it ever did before. Family responsibilities, on the other hand, have a long history of keeping people out of college. People caring for young children or elderly parents often don’t have the flexibility in their schedules to attend classes reliably, or at all.

There Are Solutions

Declining college enrollment is a crisis for both individuals who want to improve their careers and for the economy overallthere are currently two job openings for every job applicant, yet many of these jobs are going unfilled because companies can’t find people with the right training. Consider also that America spends less than a third on worker training as other wealthy nations. 

HIgher education needs to be reinvented to meet workers where they are. That’s why California created Calbright: a free online community college with classes that students can take on their own schedules. That means students like Michael can work around their family’s schedules and still get an education that is fast and career focused. 

All across the country, potential college students are telling us what they need to make it work. We can build systems that offer them what they need. California — and Calbright — are proving it.

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