Non-Degree Pathways, Understanding Gen Z

Many Gen Z Teens Don’t Feel Career Ready

It’s time to bring the future into focus for millions of students.

The Sobering Reality

A statistic that keeps us up at night: nearly half of Gen Z students in K-12 say they don’t have enough information to make informed decisions about their post-high school plans.

That means we have a whole lot of young people graduating into a world of uncertainty; a world in which they view a four-year college degree as the only viable option, because it’s the only option that’s been presented to them as a means to a successful, fulfilling career. A world in which kids are going to college without a clear purpose, solely because that’s what they’ve been told to do.

In fact, 53% of Gen Z students don’t plan to follow the traditional college degree path. That’s a problem.

Gen Z — facing a rapidly evolving economy, navigating new challenges, and learning in new ways — needs a new approach.

What if we made students aware of all of the many options available to them early on, starting in middle school (or even sooner)?

What if we pushed for a nationwide shift in the paradigm that currently says “one path fits all” when it comes to the next generation in the workforce?

What if we envisioned a labor market that’s brimming with top-tier talent based on skills acquired and honed through a variety of credible, high-quality programs, rather than just relying on one piece of paper as a signal of knowledge?

The Path Forward

At American Student Assistance®, we’re on a mission to change the way kids learn about careers and navigate postsecondary education pathways. And that change will take a village.

In order to empower students to pursue the futures they envision, we need a community of caring adults to step in and guide, but without dictating.

We need to inform students, and the adults in their lives, of the multitude of high-quality education-to-career options available to them beyond just four-year degrees. (Check out for resources to get started.)

We need employers willing to work with K-12 kids and allow them to explore different industries and job roles they likely don’t even know exist.

We need business and HR leaders to rethink four-year degree requirements for every role and, on the other side, to educate these leaders on how to assess the value of non-degree credentials.

We need youth-serving organizations to provide hands-on work-based learning experiences, professionalism 101 crash courses, and mentorship.

We need policymakers to prioritize career readiness learning both within and, more importantly, beyond the classroom to ensure that all students have equitable access to the resources they need to learn about what’s out there and tap into their own talents and interests.

We need to create digital career readiness experiences to meet kids exactly where they are — on their devices.

We’re doing all this and more at ASA by conducting research to illuminate the road ahead; partnering with and funding some incredible mission-aligned organizations (more on those to come); advocating for career education-focused policy efforts from Washington, D.C. to local and state legislatures; and developing a digital ecosystem to allow young people to expand their breadth of knowledge around personal aptitudes, potential careers, and the available paths to attaining them. So far, our digital career readiness and advocacy tools have been used by over 12 million students nationwide. (Check out Futurescape™ and Next Voice™, and stay tuned for more on the way!)

We’re excited to join Medium as a way to educate, inform, and provide insight into where we stand on career readiness — and the work we still have to do to ensure there’s a path for every kid, and a plan for every future. In the weeks and months ahead, we’ll be using this platform to highlight the work we do, why we do it, and who we do it with.

Our work is far from over, but with these efforts and more, we know we can help every student bring their future into focus.

Will you join us on our mission?

Visit us at for more on our mission and how to get involved. And for the latest and greatest in career readiness learning, subscribe to our monthly newsletter, PivotED.