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Gaps in Financial Outlook for High School vs. College Grads

Without a college degree, high school graduates are often discouraged about their future prospects and aren't aware of tools to help them turn their situation around.

A new report shows 36 percent of high school graduates feel it is "very likely" they will be financially secure in their lifetime, while 55 percent of college graduates feet that way. When it comes to the first step to start funding a college education, just three in 10 high school graduates knew about the Free Application for Federal Financial Aid (FAFSA), compared with nearly seven in 10 college grads.

The report, "One Degree of Separation: How Young Americans Who Don't Finish College See Their Chances of Success," was released last week by Public Agenda, a nonprofit public-opinion organization in New York. It is the part of a series of surveys sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation looking at attitudes toward higher education that identified other barriers keeping young people from college, including limited counseling and difficulty juggling school, work, and family life.

Despite their worries about the future and mixed experiences with jobs, most high school graduates believe there are still ways to succeed at work without additional education, according to the new survey. And many say they are wary to borrow money to go to college because they are doubtful about it's value. Just 37 percent of high school graduates "strongly agree" that going to college is worth it in the long run, while 54 percent of college graduates strongly agree.

High school graduates better take another look because research released from Georgetown University last month shows the gaps in earning power between those with a high school diploma and college graduates can be $250,000 to $1 million over a lifetime.

The Public Agenda survey found many high school graduates viewed higher education cynically, saying that the institutions were more concerned with business and the bottom line than education.

Although young people who didn't go on to college are reluctant and lack some basic knowledge about the process, four in 10 high school graduates have "given a lot of thought" to going back to school and another three in 10 have given it "some" thought, the survey reveals. Yet high school graduates are not tapping into existing systems of financial aid and counseling. The authors of the report suggest to get more students successfully into college, there needs to be better guidance, outreach and support for promising initiatives to open new channels of communication with prospective students.

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