NEW YORK (AP) — Although most young Americans believe in the value of higher education, many still consider a high school diploma alone to be enough for success, according to a survey of teens and young adults by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
The findings alarm some experts who say young Americans don’t seem to be getting the message that college pays off. Federal labor data shows a wide earnings gap between Americans who do and do not have a college degree, and unemployment rates are far lower for those with a bachelor’s or master’s degree.
More than half of Americans ages 13 through 29 do see college as a path to economic success, but about 4 in 10 believe a bachelor’s degree prepares people only somewhat well, or even poorly, for today’s economy.
Meanwhile, about half said their high school education has provided the skills they need to get a good job right after they graduate. And 45% say a high school diploma is good preparation for future successful workers.
Researchers disputed that notion, saying it has been decades since a high school diploma was enough to earn a good living.
“With a high school diploma alone, it’s very hard to earn the kinds of wages one would need to support a family,” said Thomas Brock, director of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University. “There’s just such a strong association between employment rates, as well as earnings, and education.”
In 2018, the median earnings for workers with only a high school diploma was $730 a week, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For those with a bachelor’s degree, it was $1,200, while those with a master’s degree typically made $1,400 a week.
Teens are especially likely to think high school is a good path to success in today’s economy, while young adults were less likely to say so, 51% versus 42%. And there were stark differences by race: At least half young black and Hispanic Americans said high school is a good path to success, compared with 41% of young white Americans.
More than any type of degree, 73% of young Americans said they think job experience is good preparation for success. Their esteem for practical experience is shared by the Trump administration, which has pushed to expand apprenticeship programs, and experts say it reflects today’s economy, in which more employers require internships or other work experience.
While 6 in 10 said a bachelor’s degree is a route to success, an equal number said they see vocational school as good preparation, and about half see the same value in an associate degree. The finding was a surprise to some researchers who say students — and their parents — often think of college only as a bachelor’s degree.