Things are certainly in a state of flux for higher education. Historically, the problem on college campuses has been the underrepresentation of women. Today, things are flipped as many colleges now report lower numbers of men in attendance or earning bachelor’s degrees – a gap that has been widening since the 1980s. This is wrapped up in an alarming and ongoing drop in overall enrollment rates across American colleges and universities. 

Weighing in on these trends, a CivicScience survey of more than 3,000 Americans aged 13 and older found that college is not viewed as a leading factor for a successful career. It’s valued the least by young men between 13 and 24. 

Just around 20% of men in this age group see college as a key to success, compared to nearly 30% of women. This difference in sentiment is clearly reflected on many college campuses today.

What’s Driving the Gen Z Gender Divide?

The survey looked at reasons dissuading college enrollment among those who don’t have college degrees. Both Gen Z women and men equally view the cost of education or taking on student loan debt as the leading reason to forgo pursuing a college degree. They also similarly rank other factors, such as the length of time it takes to complete a degree and COVID-19 concerns, which could include health risk, online classes, and disrupted campus life.

However, the biggest difference between Gen Z men and women is related to job and salary outcomes. Nearly 20% of men list concerns about the job market or income as the primary reason not to go to college, compared to just 10% of women. 

Trade Schools – a Better Option?

Could trade and vocational schools absorb young men seeking alternatives to the college route? These programs provide training for jobs in multiple industries, ranging from electricians, to real estate agents, to physical therapy assistants. 

Overall, more than half (54%) of the Gen Pop consider trade schools or certification programs to be better options than traditional four-year colleges.

The numbers are much lower for Gen Z. Unlike older generations who strongly favor trade schools, under 40% of Gen Z respondents agree trade schools are better alternatives to college today. However, that’s not insignificant. What’s more, Gen Z men are 13% more likely than Gen Z women to view trade schools as a viable option.

Coding Bootcamps Are Trending

Coding bootcamps are gaining traction and seem to have piqued the interest of the younger generation. These bootcamps (either online or in-person) offer fast-tracked coding programs to equip students for tech jobs in computer programming, software development, and IT. 

The survey shows nearly one-quarter of Gen Z respondents previously attended a coding bootcamp (clocking in highest among 18- to 24-year-olds), and more than 15% expressed interest in attending one in the future. This crowd may be attracted by a quicker, more direct-to-market type of education with skills that can be immediately applied to tech industries.

The Value of a College Degree Today

Are Americans becoming increasingly disenchanted with college education? While the majority of adults ages 18 and older believe college degrees are still relevant today, just over 30% find a college degree to be less worthwhile than it was 10 to 15 years ago. 

For Many, a Questionable Pipeline to Success

While a college degree is required for many jobs, it carries a low value in terms of what leads to a successful career. How hard you work, workplace skills, and who you know are cited as the three most important factors that contribute to success.

The study echoes findings from Q2 of this year, which reported a luke-warm interest in online college degrees. 

Overall, the high cost of education, combined with concerns over job outlook, length of schooling, and now COVID-19 all seem to be devaluing college degrees for would-be undergraduates, particularly men. For colleges and universities, “publish or perish” is quickly transforming into “pivot or perish” – new strategies are needed as young people seek alternatives.