Viacom and The Associated Press Study Finds Young Adults Are Creating Their Own Path in Higher Education

Apr 21, 2011
By ViacomCBS Staff

One in Four Young Adults Say the Education System Has Little to No Understanding of Their Values and Goals

As part of its commitment to education, Viacom partnered with The Associated Press to conduct "Young Adults' Perspectives on American Education 2011," a groundbreaking study based on a combination of peer-to-peer interviews and a large-scale poll of more than 1,100 American 18-24 year-olds. Viacom and The Associated Press approached the study by looking at 18-24 year-olds as "core consumers of education" and evaluating how the education system is meeting their needs.

According to the study, young adults are optimistic that high schools and colleges can prepare them for the working world, but also feel these institutions aren't adapting quickly enough to meet students' changing needs. As a result, more and more 18-24 year-olds are taking a less traditional approach to higher education, via self-directed curricula, internships and self-teaching.

"Overall, young adults want to be a part of the solution to education. They want to be active participants," said Colleen Fahey Rush, Executive Vice President and Chief Research Officer, MTV Networks. "This research echoes many of our other findings on Millennials, specifically their willingness to work within a system to get exactly what they need out of the transaction. They're not waiting for the system to change."

Connecting young adults with the information they need to navigate the complex path between high school, postsecondary education and a career has never been more critical. Recognizing the important role young people can and should play in reaching their goals, Viacom launched Get Schooled, which provides the tools and guidance young adults need to succeed in today's competitive environment. The full "Young Adults' Perspectives on American Education 2011" study is available on the Get Schooled website at

Detailed findings from the study include:

Education's One-Size-Fits-All Approach is No Longer Unifying, But Polarizing

According to the study, students are increasingly creating individual, self-tailored curricula by cherry picking schools and courses. They're also taking longer to graduate because they feel that, by combining school with work and internships, they stand a greater chance of finding a desirable job. Young adults are relying more on themselves, their families and friends and less on community or religious organizations and high school counselors when it comes to education decisions.

Overall, 27 percent of young adults say the education system has little to no understanding of their values and goals. More than a third (36 percent) report it is ambivalent to their values and goals.

Only 37 percent say the education system mostly or completely understands them.

Among those surveyed with a high school diploma, but no college experience, 33 percent say the education system has little to no understanding of their values and goals.

"I am having a hard time finding a school that teaches what I want to learn," says Evan Wardell, a 23 year-old male, part-time student.

How College Leads to a Better Life is Unclear

The most consistent theme among those interviewed - from those with no college experience to those with bachelor degrees - is that college should prepare one to join the workforce. But today's pragmatic, goal-oriented young adults are unsure that the education product being offered to them will deliver the job or career that they want.

More than half of young adults say it's more worth the money to get "an education that is focused on success in the world."

In fact, 28 percent of those who have attended college say college doesn't adequately prepare you for the workforce, while almost twice as many young adults (55 percent) say high school doesn't prepare you for the workforce.

Thirty-one percent say college doesn't provide enough practical skills to survive as an adult and 51 percent say the same about high school.

"I wish that college was more focused on careers. You take so many useless classes throughout your college education. I wish that wasn't part of the process," says Preston Van Dyke, a 23 year-old male, part-time student.

The Social Aspect of Education is Not Being Acknowledged

Driven by personal ambition and armed with the technological tools to create change, young adults say that high school and colleges are missing out on the new education toolkit being used by both those who choose college and those who don't. This toolkit includes traditional and social media, as well as mechanisms like internships that connect education to the real world.

"College, I hope, will lead me to a job but that's not usually how things work out. Internships lead you to a job, then another job. It's like a cycle that you have to find your place in," says Catherine Swift, an 18 year-old female, full-time student.

In fact, internships and hands-on experience are considered as important, if not more important, than textbook knowledge, as they lead to practical knowledge and network connections.

"Everyone says you can't get a job without an internship. Even if it didn't lead to a job with those organizations it's about who you know and what doors they can open for you," says Greta Gray, a 21 year-old female, full-time student.

The do-it-yourself approach is especially important for young adults not pursuing college classes.

"The number one thing that has helped me learn is just doing it yourself - learning on your own; building Web sites and marketing them; [and] reading blogs from well known people in the industry," said Kevin Phelps, a 21 year-old male not enrolled in any classes.


"Young Adults' Perspectives on American Education 2011" employed "Millennial-on-Millennial" interviews for the qualitative portion of the study to gain insights about Millennials' approach to post-high school education. Seven students from Brand Amplitude's Marketing Research Community were activated to serve as journalist/researchers. These student researchers worked with 17 respondents to create extensive video profiles of the participants and collect digital artifacts. The study also included a telephone survey with 1,104 young adults, ages 18-24, conducted between February 18 and March 6, 2011 by GfK Roper, Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. Fifty percent of all the interviews were conducted on cell phones.

About Viacom

Viacom is home to the world's premier entertainment brands. Through its BET Networks, MTV Networks and Paramount Pictures divisions, Viacom connects with audiences through compelling content across television, motion picture, online and mobile platforms in more than 160 countries and territories. With approximately 170 media networks reaching more than 600 million global subscribers, Viacom's leading brands include MTV, VH1, CMT, Logo, BET, CENTRIC, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., TeenNick, Nicktoons, Nick at Nite, COMEDY CENTRAL, TV Land, Spike TV and Tr3s. Paramount Pictures, America's oldest film studio and creator of many of the most beloved motion pictures, continues today as a major global producer and distributor of filmed entertainment. Viacom operates a large portfolio of branded digital media experiences, including many of the world's most popular properties for entertainment, community and casual online gaming.

For more information about Viacom and its businesses, visit

About Get Schooled

Get Schooled is a non-profit organization dedicated to using the power of media and popular culture to motivate and inspire young people, their families and teachers to improve high school graduation rates and college-going rates. Its success stems from strong partnerships with Viacom, AT&T, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and many other similarly focused companies, organizations and individuals. To find out more, visit