How the last two years have changed the goals of high school graduates

A new analysis reveals changing mindsets that could hold keys for K-12 educators as they work with graduating students.
By: | May 18, 2022
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The class of 2022 has spent almost its entire high school career harried by the COVID-19 pandemic. Not surprisingly, the experience has altered the outlook of this year’s high school seniors compared to what their pre-pandemic peers aspired to after graduation. And these changing mindsets may hold some keys for K-12 educators as they help the graduating classes of the near future map out their post-high school plans.

Overall, a quarter of students in the class of 2022 say their plans have changed since the start of the pandemic, according to “Class of 2022: Planning for the Future in Uncertain Times,” a new analysis released Wednesday by YouthTruth, a national advocacy organization for underrepresented students. And while the differences between today’s seniors and the class of 2019 aren’t drastic—fewer members of the class of 2022 plan to attend a two-year college—the survey of 28,000 students uncovered some important variations that are occurring along racial, socioeconomic and gender divides.

“As we celebrate the promise of the class of 2022 we should also recognize that this year’s seniors have born the full impact of the pandemic which has thrown up formidable barriers to opportunity for many students,” says Jen Vorse Wilka, YouthTruth’s executive director.

For example, a higher percentage of English language learners, students in the LGBTQ+ community and students of color said they had adjusted their post-graduation plans. Nearly half of all seniors in 2022 expect to attend a four-year college, but the proportion of Latinx seniors reporting they want to go to college dropped from 79% in 2019 to 71% in 2022. The drop was similar for Black students. And the number of male students planning to go to college decreased from 74% to 67% over the last three years.

Here are some other disparities in students’ aspirations:

  • Just 36% of seniors who receive special education support report that they expect to attend a four-year college compared to 53% who do not receive special education services.
  • Just one in three seniors this year who are English learners expect to go to a four-year college as compared to half of the seniors who are not English learners.
  • About one in three seniors this year who attend a high-poverty school plan to attend a four-year college, compared to half of the seniors who do not attend high-poverty schools.

Fewer of this year’s seniors said they have sought career or financial aid counseling compared to the class of 2019. But, as with college aspirations, that drop was steeper among Latinx and multiracial students, males and seniors attending rural high schools. Still, a majority of students surveyed in 2019 and 2022 described those services as valuable and helpful. Also, most seniors in the class of 2022 said there was an adult from school who they could ask to write a recommendation for a job, program, scholarship or college.

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As to what they want to do after graduating, 8% of the students surveyed planned to get a job and only about 10% said they weren’t sure though uncertainty is higher among Latinx students. Also, a higher number of English learners expect to enter the workforce after completing high school.

The survey also uncovered some disturbing numbers among seniors in the LGBTQ+ community. About one in four LGBTQ+ seniors have seriously considered dropping out of high school compared to just 14% of other students. For this year’s transgender seniors, that number is even higher at 37%.

“Particularly striking is the extent to which students’ sense of preparedness for the future has changed from 2019 to 2022 for certain groups of students, while much less has changed in the aggregate,” the survey concludes. “The trends around Hispanic or Latinx students, LQBTQ+ youth, and boys/men among others raise important questions for educators, college counselors, higher education admissions officers and institutions, policymakers and funders.”


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