Reason, Rising Tuition Costs – Turn to Online Programs
Just 41% of Gen Zers (those born between 1998 and 2015) “trust US colleges and universities,” the lowest percentage of any generation. [EPA]
The coronavirus pandemic and the changes it has caused, as well as the rising cost of college, are changing young people's attitudes toward higher education. In other words, the so-called generation Z (Gen Z), i.e. the people born between 1998 and 2015, are turning their backs on universities for the first time and changing the facts not only in education, but also in the global labor market.
It took former IT student Rashil Srivastava just one semester to realize that the university was not living up to his expectations. “As a kid you imagine that college is going to change your life and that in your first year you're going to discover yourself,” she says. He was forced to take classes online due to the pandemic and eventually dropped out of UC Berkeley in the fall of 2021 just months after enrolling.
Soon after, he decided to found a startup for job seekers. Today, while most of his peers are entering their final year of college, he has received more than $1 million in funding. “The world is evolving rapidly, and so is the university experience,” says the now 20-year-old entrepreneur. He is one of many Gen Z members who have decided to skip university altogether, due in part to the rising cost of tuition.
In 2022, four million fewer teenagers were enrolled in college than in 2012. From 2010 to 2022, college tuition rose 12% annually, while inflation rose an average of 2.6%. Today it costs at least $104,108 to attend four years at a public university and $223,360 for a private university, while salaries have not kept pace with costs. A 2019 report from the Pew Research Center found that earnings for college-educated young workers have remained mostly flat over the past half century. Four years after graduation, according to recent data from the Higher Education Authority, one-third of students earn less than $40,000, less than the average wage for workers without a degree of $44,356.
This gap largely causes universities to lose their prestige, as a 2022 survey by Morning Consult shows, according to which only 41% of Gen Z “trust US colleges and universities,” the lower rate than any generation.
Young people who do decide to attend college do so with one goal in mind: to get a good job, which in turn transforms the colleges themselves. Most are now abandoning the arts and humanities in droves and recommending degrees that lead to better-paying careers: Computer Science, Data Science, Artificial Intelligence and Social Media are among the most popular fields. The pandemic has forced students to reassess their lives and careers, now devoting their free time to optimizing their career prospects. They take workshops to better understand the current economic situation, enroll in additional online courses, and stay up-to-date on labor market developments. Many are now choosing distance education as a way to save money.
Before the pandemic, about a third of university teaching was done online, either through pre-recorded lectures, video tutorials or digitized materials. Today, some schools have gone entirely online, while others are capitalizing on the current trend by launching business programs that are entirely online. In 2011, 300,000 students enrolled in massive open online courses (MOOCs), which offer a wide range of courses for free. By 2021, the number had jumped to 220 million. Bottom line, students still want a college degree. They just want to get it faster and cheaper.