Non-Degree Holders' Downbeat Outlook

June 30, 2011

Many young people without postsecondary degrees want to return to college, but most of them don't know how to take out federal loans to pay for it, according to a new report funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The report, titled "One Degree of Separation: How Young Americans See Their Chances for Success," is based on a survey of 600 people ages 26 to 34 conducted by Public Agenda.

The survey examined young people's attitudes toward education and prosperity. Results show that, compared to their degree-holding peers, young people without college degrees are more likely to be pessimistic about their future. They are skeptical of their ability to pay for college, and most of them don't understand the basics of applying for financial aid.

"These knowledge gaps can be fatal hurdles for young people who already admit to doubts about their economic future and whether borrowing money for college is worth it," according to a statement by Public Agenda accompanying the report.

According to the report, 4 in 10 people without college degrees want to go back for more education, but about 7 in 10 couldn't identify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the form students need to fill out in order to receive federal aid. Only 37 percent of people without college degrees "strongly agree" that college is worth the cost in the long run, compared to 54 percent of college graduates.

Respondents who had only graduated from high school were less likely to consider their jobs "careers" -- 4 in 10, compared to 63 percent of college graduates. Among unemployed respondents, those without degrees (29 percent) were almost three times as likely as college graduates (11 percent) to believe they might not be able to find a job within the next year.

The report suggests that counselors and college administrators look for ways to strengthen outreach to lower-income students, many of whom may not realize that they can attend college by going part-time and taking out federal student loans.

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