Research by Public Agenda, prepared for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them

"With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them" is the first of three reports describing young Americans' views on higher education and college completion. Coming at a time when the United States has slipped to tenth place in international college completion rates, these reports explore the issue directly from the student point of view. Based on a national survey of young adults, ages 22 to 30, this research dispels some common myths about why so many students do not graduate and details what kinds of changes -- by government, higher education, business and others -- might make a difference.

REPORT 1: Quick Links

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Can I Get A Little Advice Here?, the second of Public Agenda's studies on college completion, asks young Americans how much help they received from the high school guidance system when it comes to choosing a college or career or getting financial aid for college. In too many cases, young people tell us, the answer is "not much." Based on a national survey of young adults, ages 22 to 30, we found six in 10 of those who went on to further education gave their high school counselors poor grades for their college advice, and nearly half say they felt like "just a face in the crowd." With college costs rising and completion rates sinking in the United States, this raises serious questions about what kind of help young people need, and whether they're getting it.

Report 1: With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them

Report 2: Can I Get A Little Advice Here?

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"One Degree of Separation", is the third of a series of Public Agenda surveys designed to examine the problems of higher education and college completion from the perspective of those who know best: young people who've completed a postsecondary degree, and those who haven't. With fewer than half of those who enter a four-year college finishing in six years, and with a debate raging over the value of a college education, the perspective of these young Americans is more important than ever.

In our first report, "With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them," we asked young people why they didn't finish college, and what they said is surprising. Most of those who don't finish are paying their own way, and the reason they don’t finish is because the juggling act of school, work and family is too much for them. Something's got to give, and that's usually getting a degree.

The second report, "Can I Get a Little Advice Here?", asked young people about the help they got from the high school guidance system. In too many cases, the answer is "not much." With most reporting that they got minimal assistance from over-extended high school guidance counselors, they gave them bad grades for their advice on choosing colleges and careers and obtaining financial aid. Those who got perfunctory counseling are more likely to delay college and make questionable choices.

In One Degree of Separation, we examine how 26- to 34-year-olds, both those who go on to higher education and those who don't, see their economic prospects. Do they feel secure about their future? Do they think college or other postsecondary education has value? Do they feel overburdened by college debt? Can they succeed without a diploma?

REPORT 3: Quick Links

Report 1: With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them

Report 2: Can I Get A Little Advice Here?

Report 3: One Degree of Separation Test

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With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them

"With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them" is the first of three reports describing young Americans' views on higher education and college completion. Coming at a time when the United States has slipped to tenth place in international college completion rates, these reports explore the issue directly from the student point of view. Based on a national survey of young adults, ages 22 to 30, this research dispels some common myths about why so many students do not graduate and details what kinds of changes -- by government, higher education, business and others -- might make a difference.