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September 30, 2022

Jordyn Elliott

Does Gen Z value higher education?

Despite years of unprecedented remote learning and economic uncertainty, students signal yes.

Key Takeaways

  • Almost three quarters of the classes of 2022 and 2023 (73%) said they believed their higher education experience was worth the cost.
  • Additionally, outgoing and incoming seniors believe their higher education experience prepared them to land a good job.
  • Those worried about the economy were twice as likely to have a negative view of their higher education experience.

As August 2022 approached, outgoing seniors were likely taking their first steps in post-grad life while incoming seniors started to imagine how their last year in school might pan out. Both incoming and outgoing seniors likely felt no small degree of anticipation. For the outbound seniors–how can I be successful in this next chapter? For the inbound seniors—where do I see myself one year from now and how do I get there? Layering on a looming recession makes these common worries even more pronounced.

To better understand their views of their educational investment in a time of economic uncertainty, we asked 1,343 Handshake users across the classes of 2022 and 2023 about their feelings on their career and the economy, as well as their thoughts on their higher education experience.

Higher education remains a valuable investment in the eyes of Gen Z

Overall, 73% of respondents agreed their higher education experience was worth the cost. While students agree in the value of a degree, responses also suggest a worry about the shifting from a differentiator to the bare minimum:

"Graduating with a college degree is kind of a must nowadays, and most companies require it. So, while I truly appreciate the value of a college education, I feel that it isn't a golden ticket into a great job after college. A bachelor's degree doesn't hold the same weight in value as it once did 20 to 30 years ago."

Anonymous Respondent, Class of 2022

Interestingly, the type of institution a student attended didn’t seem to influence student perception of value either – responses remained consistent regardless of whether a student attended a public or private institution, and level of selectivity.

Gen Z sees higher education as a valuable source of career preparation

74% of respondents agreed that their higher education experience prepared them to land a good job. Class of 2022 respondents were more likely to agree that their higher education experience had prepared them to land a good job – this statistically significant difference suggests that the final year of college played a meaningful role in a student’s perception of their preparedness to enter the labor market. Even students who felt like the cost of a degree might be inflated said the pay off reflected in their post-grad opportunities:

"I don't think college should be the cost it is, but I do think college helped me in some ways by allowing me to find my interest and teaching me how to network myself, since the job I currently have is what has truly prepared me to land a good career."

Anonymous Respondent, Class of 2023

Broken out by gender, women students are more likely than men to view their higher education experience positively. They were more likely to agree that their higher education experience was worth the cost AND prepared them to land a good job than respondents that were men. We see this as potentially reflective of the continued gender gap in enrollment for men in higher education.

Does student anxiety about the economy relate to attitudes toward the value of their higher education?

Additionally, we found a statistically significant relationship between student sentiment about the economy and opinions on the value of higher education. Students who reported being worried about the economy were nearly twice as likely (at 16% vs. 9%) to have a negative view of their higher education experience than those who did not express concern over the economy.

This finding is in line with research on higher education value and economic well-being: as students feel greater economic pressure (whether through cost of living and student loans), the self-assessed value of education drops. According to The Federal Reserve, more borrowers with outstanding debt believe the costs of higher education outweighed the benefits, compared to those who never had or currently have no outstanding debt.


  • Class of 2022 and 2023 data is based upon user-submitted graduation year – students without listed graduation year excluded from graduation year analysis.
  • Handshake surveyed 1,343 jobseekers from the classes of 2022 and 2023 about their thoughts on the economy, job market, and future of work. This blog summarizes the findings of the survey, with a focus on the responses to specific questions about their higher education experience.

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