Family Voices: Building Pathways From Learning to Meaningful Work

By Carnegie Corporation of New York and Gallup – Published April 2021 in Carnegie Corporation of New YorkSubscribe to the WFMonitor eNewsletter

The Carnegie Corporation of New York partnered with Gallup to survey about 3,000 parents. Half had children currently enrolled in middle or high school, and half had children under 25 who were no longer enrolled in secondary school. The aim of the survey was “to understand the postsecondary pathways parents aspire to for their children – rather than only the pathways they feel are within reach – and the barriers they face.” 

In addition to using the results collected from surveying 3,000 parents, the ample number of nuanced results in this document were created by combining information that had been garnered from Gallup and other education surveys and reports published in the recent past (cited in footnotes throughout). We cherry-picked, paraphrased, and quoted some of the results published in this document. The results were presented in three sections: 

  1. The State of the Postsecondary Landscape
  2. Barriers to Postsecondary Pathways
  3. Implications

The State of the Postsecondary Landscape
Parents have the following preferences and beliefs concerning the post-secondary education of their children:

  • If there were no obstacles or limitations, 54% of parents prefer their children pursue a four-year degree after high school graduation, 8% prefer their children pursue a two-year degree, and the remaining 38% prefer their children pursue an option other than higher education.
  • Evidence shows Americans believe the value of college education is declining, with 51% saying a college education is “very important,” which is a 19-point decrease from the 1970s.
  • Since 2013, the percentage of Americans who said a college education is “fairly important” increased by 13 points.
  • 73% of Americans said a college education is not affordable for those who need it.
  • If there were no obstacles or limitations, 67% of Black parents prefer their children pursue a four-year degree, which is 16 points higher than White parents and 11 points higher than Hispanic parents. 
  • 70% of parents who are Democrats, versus 46% who are Republicans, and 48% who are independents prefer their children pursue a four-year degree.
  • About 66% of parents who earned a college degree themselves prefer their children to do the same, while more than 20% of parents who did not earn a four-year degree prefer their children earn a college degree. 
  • 62% of parents living in cities prefer their children pursue a four-year degree, versus 41% in towns and 46% in rural areas who feel the same. 
  • 11% of associate degree holders said their first preference was for their children to pursue a two-year degree, and 41% said they would prefer their children pursue a four-year degree. 
  • White parents were more than twice as likely to prefer a two-year postsecondary education than Black or Hispanic parents., but statistics show that Black and Hispanic students are more likely to attend a community college than White students.
  • Parents were twice as likely to prefer their children pursue a skills-training program for a trade of vocation, such as plumbing, automotive repair, etc. over a two-year degree program.
  • Most parents were satisfied with the amount of education and training options available to their children, but 45% also said they wished there were more options.   

Barriers to Postsecondary Pathways
Parents believe the following limitations and obstacles exist concerning the post-secondary education of their children:

  • Among all parents, lack of financial resources was the most reported (34%) barrier that prevented their children from pursuing an ideal postsecondary education pathway.
  • In addition to financial barriers, the COVID-19 pandemic, poor academic preparation, and lack of information and availability were identified as additional impediments.
  • Children who faced barriers related to poor academic preparation, and lack of information, availability and guidance were “less likely to realize their parent’s aspirations for them,” regardless of financial barriers. 
  • Evidence from the survey suggests that lack of information and formal guidance are systemic issues.
  • About 40% of parents who preferred college or training programs for their post-high school children said their children decided to pursue a different path than their preference.
  • A lack of availability was noted as a barrier by parents who preferred their children pursue a training program, and that was nearly a seven times more likely result than parents who preferred their children pursue a four-year degree.
  • 20% of parents said a two-year degree provides an excellent avenue for career preparation, which was significantly lower than parents who said the same of four-year degrees, technical training and apprenticeships. 
  • Among students whose parents preferred they pursue a two-year degree, only 39% ultimately enrolled, and 36% entered the workforce immediately after graduating from high school rather than enrolling in a two-year degree program.
  • “67% of children whose parent aspired for them to attend a four-year college did so.” Only 9% of children whose parents preferred them to attend a four-year college enrolled in a two-year program instead.
  • Children who chose an alternative pathway to their parent’s ideal four-year program were “more likely to enter the workforce immediately after high school than attend a four-year program.”
  • “Roughly half of parents expressed broad interest in experiential learning alternatives,” such as career academies, apprenticeships, internships and service-learning programs. 
  • “Among parents who preferred their child pursue a four-year degree, two-year degree or non-college training program and whose child faced no barriers to that pathway, 85% said their child ultimately pursed it. For parents whose child faced financial barriers to their idea pathway, that percentages dropped to 57%.”

Implications

  • “For more than half of American parents, a bachelor’s degree remains the ideal postsecondary pathway for high school graduates.”
  • Approximately one-third of students whose parents want them to attend college do not do so. 
  • “A 2017 New America poll found that 21% of U.S. adults strongly agreed that there are many good-paying jobs that do not require a college degree; meanwhile, 50% said that American society does not respect people who did not go to college.”
  • In the Family Voices survey, all parents “were more likely to say a variety of skills-based training approaches provide ‘excellent’ preparation for careers than they were to say the same for a bachelor’s or associate degree.”