SAN FRANCISCO—More young people are putting their education on hold, amid a tough economy and deep cuts in the last few years to education funding.
A poll released last week found that 40 percent of young people surveyed felt that the recession had negatively affected their ability to successfully attain a higher education, forcing them to take more time to complete their degree, spend more time working, and ultimately put their academic dreams on hold.
The poll of 600 young people, ages 16-22 across California, was commissioned by New America Media. Pollsters Bendixen and Amandi conducted the survey via cell phone last May. New America Media hosted a roundtable discussion last Friday with 50 attendees, including students, youth advocates and local ethnic media across the Bay Area, to discuss the key findings of the youth poll, “A Dream Deferred.”
Despite the impact of the recession on the state of education, an overwhelming majority of those polled - 82 percent - said they feel “optimistic” about their future, a slight increase from a similar youth poll by New America Media conducted four years ago.
Dawna Williams, student body president of Laney College in Oakland, Calif., and a roundtable participant, says she was surprised by the level of optimism expressed by the students polled. The 31-year-old says she and her peers were focused on getting their degrees when they first enrolled, but have faced more hurdles as time passed.
“Reality sets in that multiple sources are cut, the number of programs are no longer there. Money is scarce and the time it will take you to get completed in years is a lot longer than you thought,” she said.
But, the poll highlighted some areas of optimism for young people.
Some 95 percent said they knew a teacher who was deeply invested in their success. At the same time, nearly two-thirds of those polled stated they did not have a mentor in high school. The roundtable discussion touched on the importance of advocacy and representation of students in and outside of the classroom.
“The people in power, the people who are representing the schools are listening and paying attention to the kids, but at the same time there’s so many kids that they can’t go to everyone,” said 22-year-old Cesar Flores. “Young people need support, they need a push in the right direction. They need someone to show them that the things they are studying are positive things.”
Roundtable participants said they feared that the lingering economic downturn was turning young
Californians’ “deferred dream” into more of a “dream canceled.” Some discussants said that although more than two-thirds of those surveyed believed they would own a house in their lifetime, they did not have a high level of optimism that that dream would be achieved.
Some roundtable participants said the results of the youth poll may be limited, as many young people who do not have a cell phone were not represented in the polling process.
“The results were in large part reflective of the demographics of young people who were polled. What I would like to start seeing is the results of young people who are traditionally silenced from the polling process all together,” said Dr. Patrick Camangian, a professor of education at the University of San Francisco.
“Our opinions are real,” Camangian said, noting that the next step is to take the poll and roundtable discussion findings to policymakers. “We need to talk to the people who make the decisions and if we can’t go there, then this is just an exercise in futility.”