Nearly Half of U.S. Families Want Alternatives to Four-Year College According to Carnegie Corporation of New York-Gallup Survey

Parents want more postsecondary options for their child but lack information; one-third do not know whether apprenticeships and internships are available in their communities

A new survey from Carnegie Corporation of New York and Gallup explores parents’ views on the pathways they aspire to for their high school graduate as well as the barriers they face in achieving those aspirations. (Graphic: Business Wire)

NEW YORK--()--A national survey of parents looks at how well they think our education system prepares young people for life after high school and finds a sobering disconnect between the opportunities families want for their child and the postsecondary pathways that are available. While attending a four-year college remains the ideal for many families, 46 percent prefer other options. Even among parents who hope their child will earn a bachelor’s degree, at least 40 percent are interested in career-related learning opportunities such as internships or apprenticeships.


These are among the findings of Family Voices: Building Pathways from Learning to Meaningful Work, an opinion poll released today by the philanthropic foundation Carnegie Corporation of New York and Gallup. It offers new insights into the aspirations that parents have for their high school graduate, their knowledge of college alternatives, their views on how well different postsecondary options prepare their child for work, and whether they can access those options.

The survey indicates that the nation’s longstanding focus on making college degrees accessible to all has had the unintended consequence of leaving behind those students who are either unable or uninterested in pursuing a traditional college degree.

Among the survey highlights:

  • 54 percent of parents wish their high school graduate would attend a four-year college (highest among Black families at 67 percent) vs. 46 percent who prefer their child pursue alternatives, even when there is no significant barrier. This includes community college (8 percent); skills training programs (16 percent); and options such as the military or a paid job (22 percent).
  • 84 percent of parents of current middle and high school students say they are “satisfied” with a four-year college, two-year college, or technical training program as options, yet 45 percent say they wish more alternatives were available.
  • 42 percent say that training for trade or technical skills provides excellent preparation for a successful career, the highest rating of any option offered. This is followed by apprenticeships (40 percent), and a four-year college degree (34 percent); yet when asked whether they were satisfied with the availability of these options, 29 percent say they were satisfied with the availability of technical training programs, and 14 percent were satisfied with the availability of apprenticeships.
  • 65 percent say their child faced one or more barriers to a preferred postsecondary pathway. Lack of funding is cited most often (34 percent), but when this is the only barrier, 57 percent of parents of recent high school graduates say their child was still able to enroll in a preferred training or higher education program. Among families facing other types of barriers, such as a lack of information or availability, only 33 percent of parents say their child was able to pursue a preferred training program or degree.
  • 39 percent of parents who had hoped their child would enroll in college or a training program after high school say their child did not do so, with 49 percent of those same students entering the workforce instead, leading to lower lifetime earnings expectations.

Commissioned by Carnegie Corporation of New York, Family Voices is based on a self-administered web-based survey conducted between November 9 and December 8, 2020, with a random sample of 2,952 U.S. adults who are current parents of children between the ages of 11 and 25.

“The message from families is clear: We need to expand and strengthen postsecondary pathways so that young people are exposed to the world of work before graduating from high school and to ensure that they have access to a robust array of career-related learning opportunities afterward,” said LaVerne Evans Srinivasan, vice president of Carnegie Corporation of New York’s National Program and program director for Education. “We hope policymakers and education leaders use these findings to build a cradle-to-career education system that prepares all our nation’s young people for the bright futures they deserve.”


Learn more about Family Voices: Building Pathways from Learning to Meaningful Work via

About Carnegie Corporation of New York
Carnegie Corporation of New York was established by Andrew Carnegie in 1911 to promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding. In keeping with this mandate, the Corporation’s work focuses on the issues that Carnegie considered of paramount importance: education, international peace, and a strong democracy. @CarnegieCorp

About Gallup
Gallup delivers analytics and advice to help leaders and organizations solve their most pressing problems. Combining more than 80 years of experience with its global reach, Gallup knows more about the attitudes and behaviors of employees, customers, students, and citizens than any other organization in the world.


Celeste Ford | Director of External Relations
Carnegie Corporation of New York | 646.772.7917

Release Summary

A survey from Carnegie Corporation of New York and Gallup explores parents' views on how well U.S. education system prepares high school graduates.


Celeste Ford | Director of External Relations
Carnegie Corporation of New York | 646.772.7917