Back to School?

What Adults Without Degrees Say About Pursuing Additional Education and Training

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The number of job openings in the United States now surpasses the number of people available and qualified to fill them. Through the Strada-Gallup Education Survey, we talk to Americans about their desire for more education and skills training and explore what motivates them to return to school.

Key Findings


46 percent of Americans believe they need additional education to advance in their careers.


Younger, non-white, and urban residents feel a greater need than their peers.


A majority (53 percent) of adults without degrees say they are likely or very likely to pursue more education in the next five years.


Adults without degrees are more likely to seek education and training from employers than from traditional education institutions.


Adults without degrees are more likely to say a guaranteed employment outcome would be the greatest motivator.


Adults with some college but no degree are no more likely than others without degrees to return to school.

“If they are going to meet people where they are, education solutions must embrace employers and work-centered pathways.”

Policymakers, employers and higher education leaders all champion the power of education to improve economic health and well-being. The workforce demand for skilled employees is greater than ever—with longstanding forecasts that 65% of job openings would require postsecondary education by 2020. And the 7 million job openings in the country now outstrip the number of unemployed Americans, in part because of a mismatch between the demands of available jobs and the skills in the pool of talent. More than half of employers say that job candidates’ lack of requisite skills is harming their companies’ productivity.

Perceived Need for Additional Education by State:

To address this skills gap, enormous resources are focused on engaging individuals to complete meaningful credentials and develop skills that will increase their value in the job market and fuel local and state economies. A dozen states have started free community college initiatives to encourage more residents to enroll, and another dozen are considering a similar move. Many of the initiatives are focused on recent high school graduates, but a significant number of states are looking to expand them to working adults. Tennessee, a leader in the free community college movement, has already done so. In an ambitious effort to reach more of the adult population, California is creating an entirely new online community college, which will offer competency-based and other programs that maximize flexibility for students. Still other states, such as Kentucky and Maryland, have focused on getting “near-completers”— residents with a significant number of college credits but no degree—back into college and to graduation.

But despite such significant effort at both the state and federal level to get more Americans to start and complete postsecondary credentials, too many policymakers and practitioners have paid too little attention to what actually motivates individuals to pursue additional education.

This Strada-Gallup Education Survey report focuses on the perceived need for additional education among Americans of all backgrounds, as well as how likely they are to pursue additional education and training and what would motivate them to do so. Perhaps not surprising, career outcomes lie at the heart of their decision-making.

Authors and Contributors

Dave Clayton, Ph. D.

Senior Vice President

Carol D’Amico, Ed.D.

Executive Vice President, Learning & Policy

Nichole Torpey-Saboe, Ph.D.

Director of Research

When it comes to education after high school, Americans know what they value and why. At Strada Education Network, we are listening to what they have to say and leveraging their insights about experiences and outcomes to forge more purposeful pathways between education and careers.

Gallup strategically partners with institutions to conduct custom research and implement best practices that create environments in which students and employees thrive.

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