Poll: Young people in New York City indicate that access, affordability, and outcomes are top concerns in higher education

by | Feb 24, 2022 | Press Release

NEW YORK – Although a high-quality postsecondary degree or credential can be the key to putting New Yorkers on the path to earning a family-sustaining wage and participating in the workforce, a new poll of young people in New York City found that at all levels – from high schools to colleges to city, state, and federal governments – there is still much to be done to support New Yorkers on their path to and through the higher education system. 

Access to financial aid and resources to prepare them for their higher education were among the top issues young people identified in the poll, particularly among young people who have been historically underserved by our education system.  

The poll, conducted by Global Strategy Group, underscores the critical need for city and state leaders and policymakers to prioritize policies and investments that make higher education more affordable and accessible. Respondents overwhelmingly support policies that will drive better outcomes, particularly for students of color, young people from working class backgrounds, and young people from immigrant families. 

“These poll findings make it clear that young people want the opportunity to pursue a postsecondary credential, but face significant barriers that can be removed by a focus on equity,” said Dia Bryant, executive director of The Education Trust–New York. “Now is the time for New York to commit to supporting more of our young people to and through college by investing in the resources and supports that will make the dream of a higher education attainable for all New Yorkers.” 

Among the poll findings:  

  • A majority of respondents indicated that New York State (70%) and New York City (70%) could be doing more to help students be successful in higher education. 
  • The cost of college and rising student loan debt are key concerns for young people in New York City, particularly among Black and Latinx respondents and those from working and middle class backgrounds, who were most likely to say that cost was a key factor in their decision not to attend college (61% of Black respondents, 62% of Latinx respondents, 52% of working class respondents, and 66% of middle class respondents). 
  • Respondents indicated strong support for grant programs that make higher education more affordable and reduce the amount of student loan debt students incur, as well as a streamlined system that would make financial aid more accessible. Two out of three respondents (66%) supported eliminating tuition at all State University of New York (SUNY) campuses. 
  • A majority of respondents across all racial groups agreed that being successful in higher education means graduating with a degree, a sentiment that was particularly strong among Asian respondents (70%). Asian, Black, and Latinx respondents who did not have a certificate or degree were also most likely to indicate they have had a difficult time finding work because they don’t have a training certificate or college degree (74% of Asian respondents, 59% of Black respondents, 48% of Latinx respondents). 
  • Respondents overwhelmingly indicated that the pandemic has made it more difficult for students to prepare for college (71%) and the workforce (71%). 
  • While respondents indicated that a number of resources are important for high school students to have to prepare for college, they by and large did not have access to them. The resources respondents indicated were most important were access to good teachers (86%), internet access (84%), and scholarships (84%). 
  • Young people overwhelmingly support lawmakers prioritizing policies that make higher education more affordable and that lead to increased graduation rates and better outcomes, particularly for students of color and students from low-income households. The policies respondents most strongly supported were reducing student debt (78%) and improving outcomes for students from low-income backgrounds (78%). 

Learn more about the findings here.

As state leaders work to finalize this year’s budget, it is time that New York prioritize supporting students to and through postsecondary opportunities.   

Here’s how:    

  • Invest in a government-wide commitment to expanding access to college counselors and other transitional supports, including financial literacy training for students and families. This work should be done in partnership between the state, districts, and higher education institutions. 
  • Invest in academic and career supports and resources that support students’ holistic development. 
  • Expand capacity of financial aid offices, hire additional financial aid counselors, and increase supports for FAFSA completion and renewal. 
  • Provide students with opportunities to explore careers early and throughout their high school and college experiences by partnering with local business partners, drawing from alumni networks, and/or hosting internship/career fairs.  
  • Encourage students to accumulate college credits as early as possible and make general education course credits easily transferrable across SUNY and CUNY campuses.  
  • Create a system of wraparound services that that support students’ mental and physical health, while addressing issues with temporary housing and/or food insecurity.  

“This new poll supports the research that shows that college counseling, as provided by school counselors, matters,” said Robert S. Rotunda, executive director of the New York State School Counselor Association. “High school students who saw their school counselor for college information are more likely to apply for college and highly qualified first-generation students are more likely to enroll in four-year colleges if they have greater access to high school counselors.”

“The findings of The Path to Postsecondary Opportunity report reinforce the need for our work to ensure equitable resources and supports towards higher education for New York City students,” said Amy Sananman, senior vice president and chief impact and strategy officer of United Way of New York City. “While disparities existed pre-pandemic, the gap between marginalized students and college education increased, creating a greater sense of urgency for the education equity work that United Way of New York City is embarking upon.”

“Well-designed postsecondary pathways allow students to optimize the myriad of resources available to them,” said Kurt M. Thiede, manager of the New York State Association for College Admissions Counseling’s Student Success Project. “The responses to this poll strongly support current efforts that assist students by providing planning tools and the ability to use them effectively. State leaders need to commit to additional human resources to ensure that all New York students receive the guidance necessary to build and implement their plans for future success.”

The survey had a confidence interval of +/-4.9%. All interviews were conducted via phone survey. Care has been taken to ensure the geographic and demographic diversity of New York City residents between the ages of 18 and 24 is properly represented. For the purposes of this research, respondents identified which class best reflected the household they grew up in. Immigrants and those from immigrant families are defined as those who reported that they, their parents, and/or their grandparents were born in another country. First-generation is defined as a respondent who is the first in their family to attend college.  


Raising Equity & Attainment in College Higher (REACH NY) is a postsecondary equity policy and advocacy network with a steering committee made up of Buffalo Center for Arts and Technology, DegreesNYC, The Education Trust–New York, Hispanic Federation, Ibero-American Action League, New York Urban League, New York State Association for College Admissions Counseling, Say Yes to Education–Buffalo, Veterans Education Success, and Young Invincibles.