Less than a third of parents surveyed (28%) said that they would be disappointed if their child did not pursue college after high school, according to a new report commissioned by American Student Assistance (ASA) and Jobs for the Future (JFF).
"Beyond Degrees" focuses on investigating people’s views and ideas of non-degree pathways, defined in this context as “non-degree-bearing education-to-career options,” such as apprenticeships, bootcamps, industry certifications, certificate programs, and occupation licenses. Though some of these pathways can ultimately add up to degrees, it is not a requirement for pathways to do so.
Compared to non-pathway young people, more of those who had chosen to pursue a nondegree pathway reported high confidence in their postsecondary plans; working part- or full-time; feeling prepared for the workforce; and feeling satisfied with their choice, according to the report.
ASA and JFF looked further as well, seeking out perspectives on non-degree pathways from the people who may have influence on the decision-making of high school students, namely their parents, teachers, and counselors.
“If the adults in their lives aren’t aware of such opportunities, how will young people learn about them?” the report asks. “If parents and educators are skeptical about nondegree choices, does that skepticism influence the opinions of the young people in their care? And, critically, who is ready and willing to encourage their own students or children to take the road less traveled?”
For this report, market research company Morning Consult surveyed more than 1,000 parents and 500 educators – teachers and guidance counselors – of high school students.
A slim majority of parents surveyed (51%) responded that they had heard some or a lot about nondegree pathways, teachers (42%) being their most cited source of information on the matter. Beliefs about lower costs, shorter completion times, relative ease of employment, and good pay potential were mentioned by parents as the key benefits of pathways.
A noticeably large portion of parents (88%) expressed interest in learning more about these pathways for their children, with Black (34%) and Hispanic (26%) parents having found to be more likely than white parents to say they were very interested.
And parents holding bachelor’s degrees or higher were more likely than those without to be aware of non-degree pathways (66% and 44%) and to express strong interest in learning more about such pathways (33% and 24%), the survey found.
Ultimately, while 28% of parents said they would be disappointed if their child did not pursue a two- or four-year college experience after high school, more parents either said they would be delighted (30%) or indifferent (41%).
Among educators, a good majority (79%) – more of the counselors than the teachers – reported having heard about non-degree pathways to some extent, and almost all of them (96%) expressed wanting to learn more on the matter, the report stated.
The survey’s findings seem to indicate generally positive sentiment from educators in regard to pathways. 86% of them responded that they would approve of their students choosing to pursue a pathway instead of college.
That’s not to say that they had no hesitations about the field. According to the report, educators cited not knowing how to assess pathway quality (33%) and the belief that employers preferred degree holders (35%) as the main reasons for their reluctance.
Julie Lammers, ASA’s senior vice president of advocacy and corporate social responsibility, said that previous research has actually shown that the majority of employers (72%) did not believe that a four-year degree was a reliable way to assess candidate quality. But employers are still defaulting to looking for degrees because they don’t know what else to look for, she said.
Few counselors (15%) are even speaking to employers for input about how to advise students, Lammers said.
“It's more of an assumption about what employers want and need,” Lammers said. “There's not a lot of communication between the employer market and schools [about what employers are looking for and how to get there]. I think there's a huge information gap there.”
More than two-thirds of young people who didn’t pursue pathways (64%) said they would have considered pathways had they been aware of them. As to why they didn’t, those who did not go to college reported a lack of encouragement from their school to look into such routes, according to the report. And according to the report, nearly half of educators surveyed said that their high schools are giving students insufficient information and guidance about pathways.
To note, most students (66%) cited their parents as the top influencers who helped them look at postsecondary options, 41% cited teachers, and only 24% cited counselors.
“There seems to be some type of disconnect or alignment issue with how the information is being passed to learners,” said Dr. Susan Acevedo-Moyer, JFF’s director of multiple pathways. “The parents are key influencers on the pathways and decisions that the learners are making, but the parents are expecting the guidance counselors and educators to actually inform the students of the array of options available to them.”
More data is required for outcomes of pathways and degrees to be measured and compared better, Acevedo-Moyer said.
Responses from students, parents, and educators alike indicate sizable interest in wanting to learn about non-degree pathways, a sentiment that those at ASA and JFF want to encourage and act on.
"We really want to provide family and educators the clear picture of the outcomes of these non-degree programs,” Acevedo-Moyer said. “We want to start integrating the information as early as middle school. Because we think, if we can do it that early, then folks will have a good understanding of what career and occupations are available to them, how to pursue them, and actually become career-ready when the time comes."