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Securing Atlanta's Future Thought Leadership

Making the case for college in these challenging times

By: Damian Ramsey 

Since fall of 2019, 1 million fewer students nationwide have enrolled in college. Uncertain times, brought on by the pandemic, have compelled prospective students (especially low-income students, first-generation students, and students of color) to ponder the opportunity costs of postsecondary education (2-year, 4-year, or technical programs), and have forced college access professionals to rethink the value proposition of a postsecondary degree. 

Students today are asking themselves important questions as they weigh the pros and cons of college. Is it worthwhile to pursue a postsecondary degree when:

  • the cost of college continues to rise and paying for it often requires the use of loans; 
  • immediate family needs necessite finding a job; 
  • a major labor shortage has compelled businesses to offer higher-than-normal wages for entry-level positions; 
  • alternative programs from big tech companies are offering more flexibility and a greater return-on-investment than many postsecondary programs; 
  • social media are presenting entrepreneurial opportunities to leverage creativity and make money from the convenience of a cell phone; and 
  • a new COVID-19 variant could impact one’s ability to have a traditional college experience. 

These are among the many considerations that have led high school seniors to forgo or postpone college during the last few years, the result of which could have long-term economic and social implications. People with only a high school diploma are nearly 40% more likely to be unemployed, four times more likely to live in poverty, and earn 2.5 times less over their lifetime than those with bachelor’s degrees. This has a significant impact on each state’s GDP, tax revenues, civic engagement, rates of criminality, incidence of divorce, and health outcomes. 

With more and more students questioning the viability of college, college access professionals have had to find innovative ways to attract and recruit prospective students. Recently, during Learn4Life’s Postsecondary Change Action Network, a convening of cross-sector partners invested in improving postsecondary success in Metro Atlanta, members shared ways to promote postsecondary education to today’s youth:

  • Model after what works – highlight schools with structures to support the journey to and through college (i.e., bridge programs, mentorship, affinity groups, financial advising, paid internships, multiple pathways) 
  • Help with cost – breakdown college expenses, identify scholarship and grant opportunities, and provide assistance with applying 
  • Map degrees to careers – demonstrate how degree programs align with individual student interests and chart to desired professions 
  • Emphasize connections – highlight the social capital developed in college through friendships with future professionals, mentorship from faculty, and international travel 
  • Leverage alumni – have former students facilitate campus tours, share testimonials, and pitch college to prospective students (especially those from their own high schools) 

As the profile of high school students changes, so must the value proposition of postsecondary education.To help reduce the downward trend in postsecondary enrollment, and the ensuing social and economic repercussions, we must acknowledge the changing reality and provide key support for students during the challenging transition to postsecondary education. Doing so will put more students on track to choice-filled careers, and could help protect the vitality of Metro Atlanta’s workforce and economy. 

If you’re a parent, or from a school, nonprofit, community organization, or business, and you would like to join our collective impact work to improve postsecondary outcomes in Metro Atlanta, sign up for our mailing list here. We’d love to have your voice at the table.


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