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After the pandemic, four years of college are gradually losing their appeal

Xander Miller, 18, will graduate from Hastings High School in Hastings, Minnesota, in June, and he has big plans for his future.

Rather than attend Minnesota State or earn a liberal arts degree like his older brother, Miller enrolled at Dakota County Technical College with guaranteed employment through the Waste Management apprenticeship program.

“I planned to go to a four-year school,” he said. However, “it didn’t seem valuable enough to me to outweigh the cost.”

Miller will instead start as a part-time technician, then transition to a full-time employee with tools and tuition reimbursement.

Xander Miller, right, with his brother Andrew and mother Lisa.

Source: Xander Miller

More than two years into the pandemic, nearly three-quarters, or 73%, of high school students think a direct career path is essential in post-secondary education, according to a survey of high school students.

The likelihood of attending a four-year school has risen from 71% to 51% over the past two years, the ECMC group found.

High school students place more emphasis on vocational training and post-graduate employment, according to the report. ECMC Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping students succeed, has surveyed more than 5,300 high school students five times since February 2020.

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Today, some 42% say their ideal post-secondary plans would require three years of college or less, while 31% said they should be two years or less.

Even before the pandemic, students were starting to consider more affordable and direct career alternatives to a four-year degree, said Jeremy Wheaton, chairman and chief executive of ECMC Group.

The rising cost of a college education and soaring student loan balances have played a significant role in shifting opinions, but “they [students] are savvier than we think,” Wheaton said. “They are aware of the jobs that are in high demand.

Still, most respondents said they felt pressure, mostly from their parents and society, to pursue a four-year degree – even though community college or vocational and technical training may make more sense for them. .

During the pandemic, tuition and fee increases have been very small by historical standards, according to a report by the College Board, which tracks trends in college prices and student aid.

For the 2021-22 school year, average tuition increased 1.3% to $3,800 for students in two-year schools; 1.6% for in-state students at public four-year colleges, reaching $10,740; and 2.1% for students at four-year private institutions, at $38,070.

Now, some colleges are raising tuition by as much as 5%, citing inflation and other pressures.

“We have increased undergraduate tuition by 4.25% for the upcoming academic year, our largest increase in 14 years,” Boston University President Robert Brown said in a recent statement. letter to the community.

“We are caught in an inflationary vice between institutional pressures and the impact on our students and their families,” he wrote.

The more changes you make to the system, the more people withdraw.

Jeremy Wheaton

Chairman and CEO of the ECMC group

“Students now have to consider the fact that it’s going to cost more and the loan forgiveness wildcard,” Wheaton said. “The more changes you make to the system, the more people withdraw.”

Across the country, fewer students have returned to college this year, leading to a 3.1% drop in undergraduate enrollment from a year ago, according to a report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research. Center based on college data.

Enrollment is now down 6.6% from two years ago, a loss of more than one million students.

A further 17% of current students said they would not return to college next year, and 19% are unsure of their plans, according to a separate survey by, which polled 1,250 students undergraduate in April.

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