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Do Teens Think College Will Be Worth It?

A survey offers a view into what young people think about college. Plus, The Boston Globe is spending
The Weekly Dispatch
A survey offers a view into what young people think about college. Plus, The Boston Globe is spending two years investigating inequalities in education.

Young Americans on the Value of College
Quick, imagine yourself back in high school. How would you answer this question? Given the cost, would you say there are more advantages or more disadvantages to attending college?
As you might expect, few teens in a recent survey said they thought there were more disadvantages to going to college, just one in five.
But the more surprising number was the group that said it was a wash — “about as many advantages as disadvantages.” Forty-five percent gave that response. 
The numbers come from a national poll released last month by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research about how young Americans view higher ed’s costs and benefits. AP-NORC focused on the relatively small number reporting it had more disadvantages, saying that most young people “remain confident in the advantages of higher education.” Our reading of the same numbers was a little more pessimistic: close to half of the teens surveyed said the cost of a bachelor’s degree nearly outweighed the value.
Two other findings that jumped out to us this week:
1. Half of the teens said a high school diploma prepares people for success in today’s economy — more than the portion of twentysomethings who said the same thing.
2. High school students expect more help with college than young adults report they got.
Finally, there’s no escaping the role family income plays in all of these things. Take something relatively simple like college visits: More than 70 percent of those from households with incomes above $100,000 said their parents will help or did help them set up visits. For those from families earning less than $50,000, the number was 46 percent.
The Great Divide
A team of four Boston Globe reporters (and an editor) is spending two years investigating inequalities in public education, exploring issues of race, class, and opportunity in K-12 and higher ed. The effort, The Great Divide, grew out of the Globe’s Valedictorians Project that documented what happened to the city’s top students after high school. The Great Divide is funded, in part, by a $600,000 grant from the Barr Foundation.
Sarah Carr, the editor for The Great Divide, says the valedictorians project really opened people’s eyes to the deep challenges facing education and the power of in-depth reporting about its role in society. She’s excited to use The Great Divide to do more of that.
Sarah has spent 20 years covering education, including for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and The Chronicle of Higher Education (yes, we briefly worked together there). She’s also written a book, Hope Against Hope, about New Orleans schools post-Hurricane Katrina. Here’s what strikes her about the state of education reporting:
  • One thing that’s missing is in-depth reporting about the ways in which K-12 and higher education are connected. Reporters assigned to cover the whole spectrum of education, she says, tend to write about those systems separately (and often only cover higher ed when there’s big news or something’s on fire).
  • Two recent Great Divide stories focus on the intersection of those worlds: this one about gaps in college-graduation rates between low-income students and their wealthier high-school classmates, even at top suburban schools; and this one about the changing role of guidance counselors, who find themselves doing less college advising.
  • Community colleges are vital and they should be covered more. One thing that’s stood out to Sarah over time is how often students bring up how comfortable they feel at community colleges. Even when they are in the minority, she says, students at those colleges seem to feel less culturally estranged.
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