Embold Research and Change Research, led by a team of Gen Z and Millennial pollsters, conducted a poll of 1,033 voters between the ages of 18 to 34, from August 25-September 1, 2023. Our survey found that young voters’ financial stress has a profound impact on their assessment of the value of a college education.
The Value of Education in the Current Economy
Our poll found deep economic anxiety among Gen Z and Millenials, and this is influencing how young voters assess the value of a college education. Only 17% say a college education is always a good investment, while 67% say it is sometimes a good investment, 13% say it is rarely a good investment, and 2% say it is never a good investment. This assessment is reflective of reality for many who have attended college.
Nearly six in 10 voters have taken on student loans to attend college. While 14% of those who attended college have already paid off their student loans, 46% still have outstanding debt. For those who have earned their four-year degree, debt is even more of an issue: 75% of college graduates have taken on student loans, and 50% currently have at least $10,000 in student loan debt. Young Black Americans are disproportionately affected by student debt, with only 16% saying they have not taken on any student loans, compared to 43% of white voters, 45% of Hispanic voters, and 46% of AAPI voters.
Majorities of young college graduates believe that their education has made things easier: 60% say their degree has made it easier for them to navigate the real world, 57% say their degree has made it easier for them to get a job they enjoy, and 54% say that their degree has made it easier to get a job that pays well.
At the same time, there are many young Americans who are not experiencing the economic security often promised by higher education: while 46% say that their degree has made it easier for them to achieve long-term financial success, 33% say their degree has not made it easier or harder, and 21% say their degree has actually made it harder.
When reflecting on their college experience, young graduates are split: 50% say that if they could go back in time, they would not change their path in education, while the other half would. Among those who wish they could change their path in education, 31% would want to pursue a different degree than they currently have, and 11% say they would pursue a higher degree than they currently have. Despite the financial strain of attaining a college degree, only 9% of college graduates would not attend college if they could go back in time.
Not all degrees are considered equal: while a majority of voters see all forms of secondary education as at least somewhat valuable, degrees that have a direct path to high-paying jobs are the most highly regarded. Young voters overwhelmingly believe that a medical degree (93%) and a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field (90%) are valuable in today’s world. Apprenticeships (87%) and law degrees (86%) are also highly valued. In contrast, 60% of young voters view a bachelor’s degree in a humanities subject as valuable, with 34% saying it is not valuable.
Student Debt and Its Economic Impact
As many young Americans begin to resume student debt payments, The Supreme Court’s decision to block President Biden’s debt relief plan is a major economic stressor. The move is opposed by 65% of young voters.
Young voters are most likely to blame the Supreme Court for blocking student loan forgiveness (70%), followed by Republicans in Congress (58%) and special interest groups (50%). Only 15% of all voters blame Biden for the lack of student loan forgiveness. Those with student debt are most concerned about being able to afford an unexpected $ 1,000 cost, payments on other types of loans/debt, rent or mortgage payments, and groceries.
Affirmative Action and Legacy Admissions
A plurality of young voters (47%) oppose the Supreme Court's recent decision to end affirmative action in college admissions. Approximately 3 in 10 voters support the decision, while 23% are unsure.
There is a clear difference in support across educational attainment: only 24% of young voters with a high school diploma or less oppose the end of affirmative action, while 33% support it and 43% are unsure.
In contrast, a majority of young voters who have attended college without achieving a degree (51%), or have earned an associate’s degree (52%), bachelor’s degree (53%), or graduate degree (54%) oppose the decision. Additionally, majorities of young Black (55%) and Hispanic (52%) voters are opposed to the Supreme Court’s decision, while their white (45%) and AAPI (37%) counterparts are less likely to be opposed.
However, voters are much more united in their assessment of legacy admissions, with 80% opposed to the practice (13% are supportive, 7% are unsure). Opposition to legacy admissions practices varies little by educational attainment: voters with (84%) and without (79%) a college degree strongly oppose the practice of legacy admissions. Interestingly, young white Americans are more likely to oppose legacy admissions (84%) than their Black (75%), Hispanic (75%), and AAPI (75%) peers.
Using its Dynamic Online Sampling Engine to obtain a sample reflective of registered voters in the U.S., Embold Research polled 3,197 people nationwide from May 22-31, 2023. The margin of error is 2.0%. Post-stratification was performed on age, gender, race/ethnicity, education, region, and 2020 presidential vote. Weighting parameters were based on the voter file.
LGBTQ respondents (14% of the sample of registered voters) are defined as those who identified in the survey as bisexual, gay, lesbian, or transgender. Allies (20% of the sample) are those respondents who did not identify as any of these but said “I consider myself to be an ally to the LGBTQ community.” Non-allies (22% of the sample) are those who did not identify as bisexual, gay, lesbian, or transgender, do not have friends or family who are, and do not identify as an ally to the LGBTQ community. The remaining 44% of voters have friends or family who are LGBTQ but they did not indicate that they identify as an ally.