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Despite Challenges and Barriers, the Luster of a Degree Persists
Gallup Blog

Despite Challenges and Barriers, the Luster of a Degree Persists

Though enrollment in higher education has declined, most U.S. adults see great value in higher education, with demand among unenrolled adults remaining high -- and even increasing among certain demographic groups.

But key barriers to enrollment exist for those who have yet to enroll, according to the latest Lumina Foundation-Gallup State of Higher Education report, and challenges remain for enrolled students.

Why Students Struggle to Stay in School -- and What Keeps Them in the Classroom

Remaining enrolled was about as difficult for students in 2022 as it was in 2021, with about four in 10 saying it was “very difficult” or “difficult” for them to remain in their programs in both years’ surveys. Black and Hispanic students struggled more than others.

Emotional stress and mental health are still major issues for students. Most students (55%) who considered stopping out in 2022 cited emotional stress as a reason they considered leaving, and almost half (47%) named mental health issues.

But nearly two in three students say they are continuing their education to obtain knowledge or skills (65%) or because it will help them get a higher-paying job (62%). Most also say that remaining enrolled will allow them to pursue a more fulfilling career (60%) or gives them personal fulfillment (55%).


Many Prospective Students Have Considered Enrolling, but Financial Barriers Exist

Roughly half (47%) of U.S. adults who are not currently enrolled in a college degree or certificate program report they have considered enrolling in the past two years, on par with what Lumina and Gallup found the previous year. Among unenrolled Black (58%) and Hispanic (53%) adults, majorities report that they have considered enrolling -- up from 51% and 44%, respectively, in 2021.

But the cost of the degree is the top reason that unenrolled adults have not enrolled, with a majority of unenrolled students (55%) naming it as a “very important” reason. Nearly half (45%) blame inflation for making it less affordable.

Finances are a major factor for those who were previously enrolled but stopped out of their postsecondary education before finishing. Nearly half (47%) say they would be “very likely” to reenroll if some or all of their current student loans were forgiven. The proportions are higher among Black (57%) and Hispanic (49%) adults who have stopped out than among White adults (37%).

Like their unenrolled counterparts, emotional stress and mental health remained major issues for students, leading the reasons students consider stopping out.

Students, Prospective Students Still Value College Degrees Despite Barriers

The Lumina Foundation-Gallup 2022 study reveals that most U.S. adults continue to see the value in higher education and view a college degree as a prerequisite for a successful career. The demand for higher education also remains high among those who are not currently enrolled and is even increasing in some groups, including Hispanic and Black adults, as well as women.

Despite the challenges, the value students see in higher education -- knowledge, pay and purpose -- keeps them motivated to continue their education. They see the value and importance of having a credential and are working to find solutions to stay enrolled to completion. The survey shows nearly all currently enrolled students (91%) are “very confident” or “confident” they will complete their education, but most importantly, this confidence is present across all demographics, including those who have previously considered stopping out.

Learn more about how the Lumina Foundation-Gallup State of Higher Education 2022 study works.


Justin McCarthy is a journalist and analyst at Gallup.

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