With this paper, we deepen, and expand upon our body of research into the public awareness and reputation of non-degree pathways, focusing in particular on the beliefs and attitudes of young people, their parents, and their teachers. For those looking to pursue, or encourage someone to pursue, a non-degree pathway today, there are no easy answers. Information about non-degree pathways is hard to come by, and it isn’t making its way into schools at a great enough rate to disrupt the damaging “college for all” mentality.
Yet, what we observe among those who have chosen the path-less-traveled is encouraging and hints at a subtle awareness shift taking place. All parties — young people, parents, and educators alike — want more information about non-degree pathways, and are hungry to understand what opportunity exists beyond the degree. And most importantly, those young people who are pursuing or have pursued apprenticeships, bootcamps, certifications, microcredentials and beyond are generally satisfied with their choices. They are largely employed, and they are appreciative of the opportunity to connect learning to earning in a meaningful way that doesn’t come with a burdensome price tag or require them to put life on hold for four years.
With this research, we put forth a call for change and a request for students, parents, and educators everywhere to adopt a more open lens on what success looks like. We ask the public to help those young people who are about to transition to adult life to not resort to knee-jerk choices, but instead to ask the question, “What if?” And we commit to playing a role in the establishment of a stronger framework of information and quality assurance that makes the choice less daunting and more realistic for millions of young Americans.