Students want postsecondary value

image of people sitting in a library

Colleagues –

The postsecondary value narrative has been prevalent in policy wonk circles for some time. And it’s been encouraging to see the needle move from stories focused exclusively on college affordability to those spotlighting access, completion, student outcomes, and social and economic mobility.

Earlier this month, our partners at HCM Strategists and Edge Research released polling data developed in response to declining higher education enrollment. The upshot? Students and young people are eager for influential voices to demonstrate the value of higher education, so their perception isn’t solely shaped by pain points. They are desperate for both the higher education and K-12 systems to provide the support they need to create the futures they want.

This project builds on last year’s initial collaboration exploring why 18- to 30-year-olds who did not complete or never enrolled in a 2- or 4-year program made that decision. This year, we also added current high school juniors and seniors to see what similarities and differences exist between their views and perspectives. The topline findings from the research show: audiences fear making the wrong choice when it comes to college, they are heavily influenced by the news and negative stories their peers share about postsecondary education, and they are looking for assurance that the time and money they invest into education after high school will lead to a better future and life. You can read more about the findings on our website.

These are important insights and come at a time when demonstrating the true value of a postsecondary credential has never mattered more. We have been watching enrollment trends very closely, particularly in light of the pandemic, and while the enrollment cliff is real, these findings are perhaps more worrying because they spotlight attitudinal interest and concerns. We have been focusing on widening the path to and through education after high school for more than a decade and remain committed to improving outcomes for students. We take a multi-faceted approach toward addressing those goals. A few specific initiatives we’re investing in toward these goals are:

  • Transformation Intermediaries: Our Postsecondary Success strategy invested $100 million dollars in six intermediary organizations – American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC), Complete College America, Excelencia in Education, Growing Inland Achievement, and UNCF – to work with 200+ colleges and universities over the next five years to make fundamental changes in their academic and operating models to promote more equitable student success. Similar initiatives have shown that institutional transformation is required to dramatically improve student outcomes for today’s students, especially those from low-income backgrounds, first-generation students, and students of color. The foundation defines transformation as the realignment of an institution’s structures, culture, and their business model to create a student experience that results in dramatic and equitable increases in outcomes and educational value.

Digital Gateway Courses: Today’s college students are more diverse, ambitious, and eager to realize the benefit of a college degree. We are partnering with Lumen Learning, Arizona State University, and Carnegie Mellon University to develop and disseminate “best in class” courseware, which is instructional content scoped and sequenced to deliver an entire course through educational software. Redesigning these courses creates value by increasing course complete rates and does so at a fraction of the cost of most textbook providers, saving students money.

Together we’re continuing to move the needle on value, but we’re not finished yet.



Quick takes


Despite frustrating delays with the 2024-2025 FAFSA rollout, this year’s form is streamlined and more accessible. With simplified income verification and fewer questions, many people can complete it in as little as 10 minutes. The updated form will help 610,000 students from low-income backgrounds receive Pell Grants, opening more doors to postsecondary education. Our advocacy partners have been working tirelessly to improve the form and increase applications. Help students unlock their futures by applying for financial aid! And to learn more about the history of the FAFSA and its underlying goals toward improving equitable postsecondary access, check out this episode of the Future U podcast.


ROADTRIP NATION: Is College Worth It?

Together with our partners at the Strada Education Foundation, we are excited to support a new Roadtrip Nation initiative exploring the value of college. This summer, the roadtrip RV will hit the road with a group of young people seeking to understand their postsecondary options and how college might set them up for success. Applications are open for young people who are not enrolled but are interested in two-year or four-year colleges, trade schools, certificates, and other postsecondary programs, and students who are currently enrolled in any type of higher ed program. Know someone who may be a good fit? Apply here.


Higher Ed Value Summit

If you’re looking for plans for May 14th, our partners at Third Way have got you covered. Join them in Washington, D.C. for their inaugural Higher Ed Value Summit, where together with leading experts from the postsecondary education space, they will tackle tough questions about the wavering public confidence in the value of a college degree. Register!