New Survey of Americans Examines Enduring Preference for Nondegree, Online Education and Training Programs

Nearly four in 10 Americans say relevance is the No. 1 factor in choosing among education options, and when it comes to delivery mode, safety and convenience drive preferences for online-only education
August 26, 2020

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INDIANAPOLIS — August 26, 2020 — Strada Education Network, a social impact organization dedicated to forging pathways between education and employment, has released a new analysis of its biweekly, nationally representative survey tracking the impact of the global pandemic on Americans’ lives, work, and education.

Throughout the pandemic Americans have consistently said they would prefer nondegree programs and skills training if they were to pursue education in the next six months. They’ve also indicated a strong interest in online education over in-person. This week’s analysis digs into the underlying motivations for these preferences. Overall, Americans are most likely to say (38 percent) that the relevance of a program to their work and life is the most important factor in preferring a degree, nondegree or skills pathway. More than a quarter (28 percent) say that a streamlined program (faster, more affordable, more convenient) is most important, and 24 percent say value is the most important factor.

Underlying each of those broad categories is a more nuanced set of motivations, and in digging into those, interesting differences emerge between Americans who prefer degree options and those who prefer nondegree ones. Those who prefer nondegree education believe it is a better value proposition than degree programs, while Americans who prefer degree programs believe they need a degree for their personal and professional goals.

“Across the board, Americans are telling us that they are choosing education programs based on value and career relevance—and institutions need to better design programs to meet those needs,” said Andrew Hanson, research director at the Strada Center for Consumer Insights. “It’s also clear that Americans with the least education understand that their first program after high school won’t likely be their last. That’s encouraging, and we need more education models that build seamless pathways through education and training for them.”

Education level also influences adults’ motivations, with those with less education placing more importance on pathways to additional education and training. Americans with a high school education or less say that finding a program that would lead to further education or training is the second-most important factor, while those with at least some education beyond high school place less importance on stackability.

When looking at mode of delivery, a plurality of Americans prefer online-only options over hybrid or in-person, with those who do citing safety as the most important factor, followed by cost and convenience. In contrast, Americans who prefer in-person education are more likely to say their top factor was learning, followed by comfort and support.

Americans without a college degree are more likely to identify feeling more comfortable and a more supportive environment as the most important factor in deciding among in-person, hybrid and online options, while low-income Americans place more importance on convenience. One in 4 Americans with a high school education or less and 1 in 4 low-income Americans say being in an environment where they feel comfortable is the most important factor in deciding among in-person, hybrid, and online education options.

“The Americans who need education and training the most are telling us that feeling welcomed and supported is essential,” Hanson said. “We can design the best education programs in the world, but if people don’t feel they belong there, it won’t matter.”

To date, over 16,000 Americans have been surveyed for the Public Viewpoint. The Public Viewpoint is produced by Strada Education Network’s Center for Consumer Insights, a research team that studies the experiences and perceptions of American adults in order to inform the development of a more consumer-centered learning ecosystem. Strada Center for Consumer Insights provides the nation’s largest education consumer database, which includes more than 350,000 completed surveys about the education and work experiences of American adults. View the full Public Viewpoint findings at: https://www.stradaeducation.org/publicviewpoint/.

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About Strada Education Network

Strada Education Network is a pioneering social impact organization dedicated to improving lives by forging clearer and more purposeful pathways between education and employment. Our approach combines innovative research, thought leadership, strategic philanthropy, mission-aligned investments and a network of affiliate organizations. Together, we work to create a new learning ecosystem that better serves the millions of Americans seeking to complete postsecondary education and training, gain clear value from those experiences, and build meaningful careers. Learn more at stradaeducation.org.

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