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Doubts About Value Are Deterring College Enrollment

Doubts About Value Are Deterring College Enrollment

Inside Higher Ed

Jessica Blake
March 13, 2024
Enrollment has been declining in higher education for more than a decade, and the most common explanations in recent years have been lingering effects of the pandemic and a looming demographic cliff expected to shrink the number of traditional-age college students. But new research suggests that public doubts about the value of a college degree are a key contributor.
The study—conducted by Edge Research, a marketing research firm, and HCM Strategists, a public policy and advocacy consulting firm with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—uses focus groups and parallel national surveys of current high school students and of adults who decided to leave college or who didn’t go at all to link the value proposition of a college degree and Americans’ behaviors after high school.
“At the end of the day, higher education has a lot of work to do to convince these audiences of its value,” said Terrell Dunn, an HCM consultant.
But college leaders shouldn’t be without hope, she added: While Americans are skeptical, they’re persuadable.
“[Potential students] are pretty rational in weighing their opportunity costs,” Dunn said. “They’re saying, ‘I can pursue shorter and cheaper options, and still get a good job.’ So higher ed has to figure out how to explain why what they’re offering is better.”
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