Aug 15, 2020 - Economy & Business

Younger students see less value in college this fall

Data: Strada Public Viewpoint: COVID-19 Work and Education Survey, 2020; Note: The exact wording for the first question was "Thinking about the education and training that will be provided by colleges and universities this Fall 2020 semester compared to Fall 2019, how would you rate the value of Fall 2020?"; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios
Data: Strada Public Viewpoint: COVID-19 Work and Education Survey, 2020; Note: The exact wording for the first question was "Thinking about the education and training that will be provided by colleges and universities this Fall 2020 semester compared to Fall 2019, how would you rate the value of Fall 2020?"; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Traditional-age college students (18-24 years old) are more likely than their older peers to see college education as less valuable this fall compared to last fall, per survey data released this week by Strada Education Network.

Why it matters: College kids crave the in-person campus experience, and many didn't like the hasty move to remote learning in the spring, said Andrew Hanson, Strada director of research and insights.

  • The 18- to 24-year-old set also tends to downplay the risks of COVID-19.
  • Only 9% of this age group say they strongly agree that pursuing education puts them at risk of infection, compared with 17% of students 25 and older.

"What happened in the spring, when institutions just basically ported their lectures online, has been demonstrated to be a very subpar learning experience," Hanson said. "There's an opportunity to do something better than that, but so many people had that experience that they're just not interested in recreating it, especially not for the tuition they have to pay for it."

The other side: By contrast, college students 25 and older are somewhat less concerned about the online class experience and, in many cases, actually prefer it, Strada research has found.

  • That's likely because older adult learners are in school to gain specific skills, and the social aspect of college is less of a priority.

Between the lines: "Lots of media coverage around Gen Z is that they are basically living in virtual reality so we might expect them to have a strong preference for online learning," Hanson said.

  • "It turns out, they're just like everyone else — they want the human interaction of face-to-face learning. That seems to be more of a stage of life difference than a generational one."

The bottom line: Virtual learning is likely to be an enduring part of delivering education and training in the U.S., but different cohorts of learners will continue to have different preferences for just how much remote learning they're willing to pay for.

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