An Uncertain Future Ahead For College Students—And They Know It

Forbes.com

Posted February 25, 2021 by Mark Perna

It’s a high-stakes moment in their education and career journey. Mark’s article, “An Uncertain Future Ahead For College Students—And They Know It,” published at Forbes.com on February 9, 2021.

The pandemic has made everyone uncertain about the future, but no one more so than Generation-Z college students. Some weren’t sure if they should even go back to school last fall. Career scarring, that can significantly affect workers launching their careers during a recession, is a real danger. They’ve reached a high-stakes moment in their education and career journey—and the pandemic isn’t making it any easier.

According to a recent CollegeFinance.com survey, only 3 in 10 college students now feel confident about getting their desired job once they graduate. Even fewer (23%) believe they will receive their desired salary after graduation. Nearly 1 in 6 students lost the positions they had lined up before the pandemic hit, with only 9% of students reporting they were able to work at jobs offered to them before Covid-19 struck.

Are virtual classes as good as in-person?

Of the survey’s 1,012 respondents, 46% were attending classes in person, while the other 54% were learning remotely. There’s a lot of debate as to whether remote learning offers the same value to the learner as a traditional in-person class—especially considering the tuition costs of higher education—but Kevin Walker, Publisher at CollegeFinance.com, believes it can be different for each student.

“Whether virtual classes offer the same value as in-person classes is highly dependent on variables such as the student’s learning style, the professor’s teaching style, the topic of the class and more,” says Walker. “The student must assess these numerous factors and personally decide what’s best for their future.”

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Beyond the virtual classes debate is the question of the overall college experience. Overall, is virtual college as good as the in-person, on-campus experience? College students say no: those attending classes virtually seemed less positive about their college experience than those attending in person.

“The transition from fully in-person classes to fully virtual was understandably rough for some students, especially given the reason why,” says Walker. “The pandemic as a whole has made a great deal of Americans miss in-person socialization, and college students are no exception.”

Cautious steps toward the future

The rising cost of a college education has caused many students to weigh its potential benefits against its very real price tag. As the pandemic drags on, students are expressing increasing caution about taking on educational debt, with only a quarter of students believing college loans are still a good idea right now.

“The pandemic has made most Americans consider major decisions, such as health and finances, more carefully,” says Walker. “Students may look to pursue more affordable educational options in the future.”

Student loans are proving a challenge for students to pay back, with only 19% of virtual learners and 21% of in-person students receiving any kind of Covid relief in this area. Of those who did take out loans to continue their education amid the pandemic, virtual students were the most likely to express regret.

A gloomy career outlook

Only a third of college students believe they’ll be able to land the job they want once they graduate. Less than a quarter are feeling confident about getting their desired salary once they do enter the working world.

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This gloomy outlook is affecting their education choices, as 58% of virtual students and 42% of in-person students are considering putting their studies on hold for now. “Given the uncertain economic times, it’s unfortunate, yet expected, that college students are concerned for their upcoming place in the workforce,” says Walker.

As the economy recovers, the younger generations’ natural optimism may well recover with it. But they’re still entering a labor market fraught with uncertainty—and they know it.

Generation Resilient

Today’s younger generations have gotten a lot of nicknames—not all of them complimentary—but the most recent, ‘Generation Resilient,’ is probably going to stick. Like the Greatest Generation before them, Gen-Z is coming of age during a time of societal turmoil and rapid change. They’re growing up faster, grappling with major life decisions that are already stressful, and now further complicated by the challenges of a pandemic-struck world.

But they’re proving far more resilient than anyone expected.

Their education may have been disrupted, but they’re doing their own share of disruption. Story after story is emerging of how young people have adapted to the new virtual world of learning, internship and mentoring. One young woman, a F1 visa holder, used the power of uncertainty to fuel her achievements. Another student turned her high school remote learning experience into a mentorship—from her own (and unwitting) dad. And another young woman delivered a viable investment strategy to the asset management firm where she was being mentored by a top-level executive.

Their education may have been disrupted, but they’re doing their own share of disruption. Click To Tweet

Like the rest of the world, Generation Resilient has taken a blow this past year. Their education and career plans may be in limbo for now, but if Gen-Z delivers on the promise they’ve shown thus far, the uncertainty of the future won’t hold them back for long.

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Read at Forbes.com


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About The Author
Mark Perna
Mark C. Perna is an international speaker and bestselling author. He also serves as CEO of TFS Results, a strategic consulting firm at the forefront of the national paradigm shift in education and workforce development.
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