Despite declining enrollment at many U.S. higher ed institutions, nearly three-fourths of all adults say a college degree is as important as (35 percent) or more important (39 percent) than it was 20 years ago, according to a report from Gallup and Lumina Foundation.

The State of Higher Education 2023 report is the third consecutive study by the two organizations, which surveyed U.S. adults between 18 and 59. Respondents include some 6,000 students currently enrolled in a postsecondary education program, 3,000 adults who started but stopped out, and another 3,000 individuals who have never enrolled in higher education.

The latest study shows that currently enrolled students are finding it just as difficult to remain enrolled in their programs as they did the year before. But now, more students—Black, Hispanic, and male students in particular—are considering stopping out of their coursework. Emotional stress and mental health are the top reasons they are considering pausing their studies, but cost and inflation are also weighing on their minds.

Among additional key findings in the report:

  • Forty-seven percent say they have considered enrolling in a bachelor’s degree, associate degree, industry certification or certificate program in the past two years, similar to the 44% who said so in 2021.
  • Sixty-one percent of those who stopped out of a postsecondary program report they have recently considered reenrolling. Thirty-six percent of those who have never been enrolled recently considered enrolling.
  • Over half of all unenrolled Black adults (58%) and Hispanic adults (53%) report that they are considering enrolling — up from 51% and 44%, respectively, in 2021. Nearly half of unenrolled women (47%) have considered enrolling, up from 41% the previous year.
  • Associate degrees and short-term credentials are still the most commonly considered pathways for the unenrolled. These two pathways are most popular with unenrolled women and those aged 25 and older.
  • Financial barriers are most frequently identified as very important reasons unenrolled adults are not currently enrolled, including costs of programs (55%), inflation (45%) and the need to work (38%). However, unenrolled Black and Hispanic adults are more likely than unenrolled white adults to name a range of other factors as barriers.

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