Preventing a “Lost Generation”:

Understanding Education and Work in a Time of Crisis

In the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic began waging war on people’s lives, the health care system, the economy and the nation’s collective sense of security. The tumult simultaneously -- and abruptly – disrupted education and employment. Millions of high school seniors attended their graduations online, and had no idea whether they would be sitting in a college classroom in the fall. The traditional path to the middle class — a college education — was about to be challenged by the pandemic and the students themselves. And today, the historic cycle of college enrollment growing during an economic downturn has yet to play out.

In the earliest days of the historically unprecedented pandemic lockdown, Strada Education Network developed a rigorous, rapid-response research initiative to better understand how the U.S. learning population was being affected.

With its Public Viewpoint research, Strada has sought to equip educators, policymakers and employers with data to identify critical trends to guide them as they navigate the uncertain, fast-changing crisis. The findings reflect data from multiple national surveys of more than 50,000 adults, across generations, race, ethnicity and gender identification. The ongoing research — which has generated 27 reports — provides crucial insight into the plans, attitudes, beliefs and experiences of students driven by real-time surveys that started as the pandemic began shutting down the nation.

“This is a transformational moment in education that we haven’t seen since World War II, when the GI Bill expanded access to education for what became known as the Greatest Generation,” said Dave Clayton, Strada’s senior vice president of research. “Now we’re fighting to avoid a lost generation as Americans lose confidence and experience with higher education. As many have lost the momentum of their lives, we need education that will provide them with both the certainty that they will become something and the promise that, as with the Greatest Generation, they can become anything. It’s a wakeup call—but the keys to success are very clear from the public’s perspective.

Public Viewpoint offers a window into the challenges that today’s current and prospective students are facing and insights into what all learning institutions can do to attract and serve students.

It shows they still value education but want more options — and more convenient ones — to pursue education, including tremendous demand for credentials, strong interest in online and hybrid learning approaches, and sustained belief in the quality of in-person learning.

It shows that while millions of learners changed or delayed their education plans during the pandemic — and that they’re less likely to reengage if they do — they still want to pursue those opportunities. Providing academic supports, financial assistance, and career advising can help them do that, but they often feel uncertain about which abilities and skills are valued by employers and their path to turn education into career success.

It shows that learners are considering the “return on investment” on their education and which paths might increase their chance of getting a quality job and expanding their economic opportunities. And when they see their education being closely tied to their career goals, their sense of ROI increases significantly.

It also shows that the pandemic has affected people disproportionately, with communities of color feeling more acute effects. It shows the pandemic’s mental strain on students, their frustration with lost career development opportunities, and the personal factors that influenced their education decisions as the pandemic set in.

The episodic research reports provide individual snapshots of a disruptive time. But looked at together, consistent themes emerge with important lessons.

In the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic began waging war on people’s lives, the health care system, the economy and the nation’s collective sense of security. The tumult simultaneously -- and abruptly – disrupted education and employment. Millions of high school seniors attended their graduations online, and had no idea whether they would be sitting in a college classroom in the fall. The traditional path to the middle class — a college education — was about to be challenged by the pandemic and the students themselves. And today, the historic cycle of college enrollment growing during an economic downturn has yet to play out.

In the earliest days of the historically unprecedented pandemic lockdown, Strada Education Network developed a rigorous, rapid-response research initiative to better understand how the U.S. learning population was being affected.

With its Public Viewpoint research, Strada has sought to equip educators, policymakers and employers with data to identify critical trends to guide them as they navigate the uncertain, fast-changing crisis. The findings reflect data from multiple national surveys of more than 50,000 adults, across generations, race, ethnicity and gender identification. The ongoing research — which has generated 27 reports — provides crucial insight into the plans, attitudes, beliefs and experiences of students driven by real-time surveys that started as the pandemic began shutting down the nation.

“This is a transformational moment in education that we haven’t seen since World War II, when the GI Bill expanded access to education for what became known as the Greatest Generation,” said Dave Clayton, Strada’s senior vice president of research. “Now we’re fighting to avoid a lost generation as Americans lose confidence and experience with higher education. As many have lost the momentum of their lives, we need education that will provide them with both the certainty that they will become something and the promise that, as with the Greatest Generation, they can become anything. It’s a wakeup call—but the keys to success are very clear from the public’s perspective.

Public Viewpoint offers a window into the challenges that today’s current and prospective students are facing and insights into what all learning institutions can do to attract and serve students.

It shows they still value education but want more options — and more convenient ones — to pursue education, including tremendous demand for credentials, strong interest in online and hybrid learning approaches, and sustained belief in the quality of in-person learning.

It shows that while millions of learners changed or delayed their education plans during the pandemic — and that they’re less likely to reengage if they do — they still want to pursue those opportunities. Providing academic supports, financial assistance, and career advising can help them do that, but they often feel uncertain about which abilities and skills are valued by employers and their path to turn education into career success.

It shows that learners are considering the “return on investment” on their education and which paths might increase their chance of getting a quality job and expanding their economic opportunities. And when they see their education being closely tied to their career goals, their sense of ROI increases significantly.

It also shows that the pandemic has affected people disproportionately, with communities of color feeling more acute effects. It shows the pandemic’s mental strain on students, their frustration with lost career development opportunities, and the personal factors that influenced their education decisions as the pandemic set in.

The episodic research reports provide individual snapshots of a disruptive time. But looked at together, consistent themes emerge with important lessons.


This content is paid for and provided by Strada Education Network. The editorial team of Inside Higher Ed had no role in its production.



This content is paid for and provided by Strada Education Network. The editorial team of Inside Higher Ed had no role in its production.