Nearly Half of US Parents Say They Want More Options For Their Kids Than the 4-Year University Path

Although many parents have traditionally advocated for kids to go to college right after high school, a new survey finds that more parents would prefer alternatives.

With the school year winding down, college visits ramp up as parents and their teens consider what life after high school might look like. But not every parent is trying to decide which state school or major is right for their child. Some are wondering if there might be an alternative to earning a bachelor's degree. A recent survey of U.S. parents conducted by Carnegie Corporation and Gallup found that 46 percent of parents say even if there were no barriers to their child earning a bachelor's degree, they would prefer another postsecondary option.

An image of a one way sign on a colorful background.
Getty Images. Art: Jillian Sellers.

Of the parents surveyed, all of whom had children aged 11 to 25, 54 percent said they would prefer that their child enroll in a four-year university immediately after high school. Sixty-six percent of people who have bachelor's degrees themselves, 67 percent who have Black children, and 70 percent who identify as Democrats were especially likely to prefer enrollment in a four-year university.

But 22 percent of parents said they would prefer that their child pursue a path that does not explicitly involve formal postsecondary education, such as starting a business, performing volunteer work, joining the military, securing a paid job, or taking time off to pursue their interests.

The survey also highlighted the fact that while many parents (84 percent) are "satisfied" with the idea of their middle schooler or high schooler going on to a four-year college, two-year college and vocational or technical skills training program, nearly half of them (45 percent) agree or strongly agree that they wish they were more options available to their child.

The reason, according to Gallup? Parents feel like noncollege experiences might offer opportunities for practical learning. When asked which postsecondary pathway will offer "excellent preparation" for kids to be successful in their careers:

  • 42 percent vouched for training for a trade or technical skill.
  • 40 percent backed apprenticeships.
  • 34 percent liked four-year college.
  • 20 percent supported two-year college.

At the same time, parents are also "noticeably less satisfied with the availability of training and apprenticeship programs than they are with the availability of two- and four-year colleges," the report notes.

It's a case for both parents and children to not only have better access to noncollege programs but to be supplied with more information about them, perhaps by high school counselors. After all, arming students that knowledge will not only help them better understand the options available to them but ultimately pinpoint the path that's best suited to their unique dreams.

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