"One Degree of Separation", is the third of a series of Public Agenda surveys designed to examine the problems of higher education and college completion from the perspective of those who know best: young people who've completed a postsecondary degree, and those who haven't. With fewer than half of those who enter a four-year college finishing in six years, and with a debate raging over the value of a college education, the perspective of these young Americans is more important than ever.
In our first report, "With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them," we asked young people why they didn't finish college, and what they said is surprising. Most of those who don't finish are paying their own way, and the reason they donít finish is because the juggling act of school, work and family is too much for them. Something's got to give, and that's usually getting a degree.
The second report, "Can I Get a Little Advice Here?", asked young people about the help they got from the high school guidance system. In too many cases, the answer is "not much." With most reporting that they got minimal assistance from over-extended high school guidance counselors, they gave them bad grades for their advice on choosing colleges and careers and obtaining financial aid. Those who got perfunctory counseling are more likely to delay college and make questionable choices.
In One Degree of Separation, we examine how 26- to 34-year-olds, both those who go on to higher education and those who don't, see their economic prospects. Do they feel secure about their future? Do they think college or other postsecondary education has value? Do they feel overburdened by college debt? Can they succeed without a diploma?
Compared to young people with degrees, high school graduates are less confident about their financial prospects and much less likely to be on a solid career path.
Despite their worries about the future and mixed experiences with jobs, most high school graduates believe there are still ways to succeed at work without additional education.
High school graduates are less likely to say it's a good idea to borrow money to go to college.
High school graduates are more skeptical about the motives of higher education institutions than college graduates.
High school graduates have gaps in knowledge that could undercut their own ability to get a college degree in the future.
Implications and questions
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