Public Agenda Alert -- Thursday, November 14, 2013
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Can Confidence Hinder Success?
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Adult Students' Confidence in Obtaining a Degree May Be Hindering Their Success 

In our most recent research, just 30 percent of adults looking to return to college said they worry about dropping outFor these prospective students, such confidence is a must. They know that it will be hard to succeed in college after being out of practice and while juggling commitments to job and family. If these adults weren't optimistic that they'd make it, most would never make the decision to return.


This same confidence and optimism, however, may threaten their ability to make decisions that will best ensure their success.   


If adult students want to beat the odds, they need to start by choosing a school or program that's right for them. Most of the adults we spoke to were confident that they could do so:



Unfortunately, our results suggest this confidence may hinder these prospective students from asking important questions and properly evaluating all of the information they need to make good decisions. As a result, many of these students may be unaware of or misinformed about key issues that could impact their ability to succeed in college. For example:  

  • These prospective students see themselves as finishers, not quitters. As such, just 47 percent say knowing the graduation rate of a school is essential information in their college search. Experts, on the other hand, say the graduation rate of a school paints an accurate picture of whether a student will graduate or not.
  • Though 67 percent of adult prospective students told us they worry about taking on too much debt, barely half (51 percent) think it's important to know the average debt a typical student at a particular school graduates with.
  • While they're confident that information is "out there," they're not accessing that information. Just 18 percent have used comprehensive, impartial websites like the White House's College Scorecard that compare schools during their college search.

Students are far more likely to complete their degree if they select a school that meets their academic, personal, social and financial needs. These findings, however, suggest that adult prospective students may not be doing so.


There are steps that leaders in higher education, policy and philanthropy can take to empower these adults and help validate their confidence. Our report includes a number of recommendations to help leaders better reach these adults hoping to go back to school. Do you have other ideas? Share them with us on Twitter, using hashtag #WorthIt.  

What's On the Agenda?

The latest from Public Agenda's blog includes:


3 Ways the White House's College Scorecard Can Better Serve Adult Prospective College Students

The White House's public tool for searching and comparing colleges is largely unknown to a large chunk of prospective students -- adults considering a degree. Here are 3 things the government should consider improving as they seek to help prospective students make good college choices.


How to FAIL at Engaging Faculty and Staff in Student 

Success Efforts

If your goal were to fail miserably, how would you carry out a student success effort at your campus? Here you'll find our top-ten tips for failure and the implications of these disastrous moves on what actually helps the work succeed. (Also published on the Completion by Design website.)


Post-Sandy New York: A Model for Collaboration in 

Problem Solving

For the year anniversary of Sandy, we republished Will Friedman's piece which asks: As the city shapes its future post-Sandy, can it also become a role model for how a community of leaders and citizens work together to solve complex and potentially volatile public problems? (Originally published on the Huffington Post.)


Re-Linking the Self to Self Government: An Interview 

with Will Friedman

National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD) member and filmmaker Jeffrey Abelson interviews Will Friedman, our president, to talk about our work and our hopes and concerns for democratic governance in our country.

PA in the News

Is College Worth It For Me?: How Adults without Degrees Think about Going (Back) to College
Better school performance data is insufficient for helping prospective students choose a college wisely. If higher education leaders want to help prospective students choose a college that maximizes their academic and financial prospects, they must engage students and provide support so they can interpret school quality data and connect it to their own lives. Below is recent coverage of this issue:
Not Yet Sold: What Employers and Community College Students Think About Online Education
While employers and students recognize a niche for online classes, degrees and certificates, they do not trust it as much as they do traditional education. But just as online education itself is rapidly changing, we expect student and employer attitudes to shift as well. Below is recent coverage of this issue:


When Trans Fats Were Healthy
Senior Research Associate, David Schleifer, Ph.D. put his knowledge of the history of trans fats to work last week when the FDA announced a proposal to ban its use in food products. See coverage from NPR NewsThe Atlantic, and the Chicago Tribune

This New York Times article looks at a pre-Twitter Public Agenda report, The Charitable Impulse from 2005, to describe how nonprofits are changing tactics in their appeal for donations. 
About Us
Public Agenda is a nonprofit organization that helps diverse leaders and citizens navigate complex, divisive issues. Through nonpartisan research and engagement, it provides people with the insights and support they need to arrive at workable solutions on critical issues, regardless of their differences. Since 1975, Public Agenda has helped foster progress on K-12 and higher education reform, health care, federal and local budgets, energy and immigration. Find Public Agenda online at

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