WASHINGTON, Sept. 13, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, Inc., a nonprofit educational organization honoring the achievements of outstanding individuals and encouraging youth to pursue their dreams through higher education, today announced the findings of its State of Our Nation's Youth (SONY) survey, in advance of the 2016 presidential election. The State of Our Nation's Youth report has been produced by the Association since 1997 to give voice to the opinions, concerns, thoughts and aspirations of young people in the United States. The 2016 report offers key insights into the attitudes and beliefs of approximately 1,500 high school students and recent high school graduates nationwide on topics such as trust in government, determinants of success, the media, education, employment and managing stress. The primary purpose of the survey is to better understand the important influences shaping the next generation of American leaders within the context of a presidential election cycle.
The survey, fielded and published every four years, is commissioned by the Association and conducted by Hart Research Associates and Dr. Gregory Wolniak of New York University. The key findings from the 2016 SONY survey construct a compelling narrative about the values, goals, priorities and concerns of today's 14-23 year olds. Contrary to common assumptions about "Gen Z" and younger Millennials, responses clearly express that this generation is conscientious, hard-working, career-driven, dedicated to progressing racial, socioeconomic and LGBT equality, and yet, somewhat traditional in their life goals. Based on personal experiences, the survey shows that young people in the United States are redefining the means by which the American Dream is achieved – both personally and societally.
Of the high school students and recent high school graduates surveyed, results showed:
Despite the many challenges faced by this generation, young people remain cautiously optimistic about the future and aim to better society as a whole.
- Hope and optimism about the country's future has been on the rise since 2008. Between 2001 and 2008, students were increasingly pessimistic about the country's future. However, since 2008 there has been an uptick in optimism. Most recently, in 2016, nearly two-thirds of high school students (64 percent) reported feeling hopeful and optimistic towards the country's future.
- Social equality is the most important issue for change in the United States. According to high school students and graduates, areas most often identified as needing change in America are equal treatment of all races (35 and 33 percent, respectively) and narrowing the economic gap between rich and poor (34 and 30 percent).
- Most believe the presidential election will make a large difference for the country. 45 percent of high school students and 52 percent of graduates expect the 2016 election will make a very large difference for the country, with an additional 35 percent of both groups expecting it will make a fairly large difference.
- Despite optimism for the country's future and a belief that the 2016 election will have a major impact on it, few trust the government. Small shares of today's young people have faith in the government to do what is right. Fourteen percent of high school students and 9 percent of high school graduates never trust the government to do what is right.
Contrary to what many believe about "Gen Z" and younger Millennials, these generations have fairly traditional life goals and desires.
- Success is closely tied to financial stability, helping others and raising a family. Today's younger generations associate being well off financially (75 percent of high school students and 76 percent of high school graduates), helping others who are in difficulty (69 percent of students and 68 percent of graduates), and raising a family (66 and 64 percent, respectively) with success in life. Each of these life goals was rated essential or very important when considering life success.
- Young people today place much more emphasis on actions and hard work than luck. Nearly nine out of 10 high school students and high school graduates attribute success in life to hard work and actions rather than luck.
- The leading source of pressure among high school students is themselves. When evaluating the leading sources of pressure, students most often name themselves; 65 percent of students who characterized pressure to get into college as a major problem in their lives indicated that this pressure was self-induced, and 58 percent credited their parents.
Young Americans still see value in higher education, despite real concerns about cost.
- The pursuit of a college degree remains a nearly universal aspiration among high school students. 90 percent of high school students intend to pursue some type of degree. However, this percentage has decreased from 97 percent in 2012, possibly indicating a minor shift in perceived value of higher education credentials or the very real impact of higher costs within this space. Among high school students who plan to complete a degree or certificate, roughly 16 percent intend to pursue a vocational, technical, or two-year degree or certificate, about half (49 percent) aim to complete a four-year degree, and just over one in three (34 percent) have their sights on a graduate degree.
- Progressing to college immediately after high school remains the norm, though other factors play a decisive role. Most students (91 percent) intend to enroll in college immediately after graduation. Of those that do not intend to enroll immediately, many cite the cost of going to college (59 percent), need to get a full-time job (47 percent), and lacking good enough grades (36 percent) as major factors in their decision. This is of note as the U.S. Department of Education reports that only 68 percent actually pursue a college degree the fall following high school graduation, potentially highlighting a disconnect between students desire and ability to do so.
- College costs are cause for concern among the vast majority of high school students. College costs continue to skyrocket. It is no surprise that students express a great deal of concern about their ability to finance their education. 46 percent acknowledge some concerns and 21 percent have major concerns.
"The results of the 2016 State of our Nation's Youth survey underscore not only the importance of providing financial support to students pursuing a four year degree, but also the need to support alternate forms of postsecondary education, such as career and technical programs. 59 percent of high school students who do not choose to enroll in college cite cost as the deciding factor and 47 percent cite the need to get a full-time job," said Terrence J. Giroux, executive director, Horatio Alger Association. "Understanding the many challenges students face today when considering higher education, the Association is addressing the increasing demand for career and technical education through its new scholarship programs tailored to students pursuing these degrees as well as four-year degrees. As our Members know well, there are many ways to achieve success and we are dedicated to providing scholarships for deserving young Americans, whichever path they choose."
Survey results equip key constituencies – including educators, policy makers and media – with valuable data that lends insights into the viewpoints and attitudes of United States youth – many of whom will be first-time voters in a national presidential election. Many of the same topics studied in 2012 and prior years remained consistent in the 2016 survey as this year's study re-examined key topics such as politics, academics and educational aspirations, news and media, family and relationships, communication and technology and future outlook on the country. New topics were also introduced, such as career and technical education, parental involvement, stress and depression and the impact of social media.
"Despite – or perhaps because of – the fact that this generation grew up within challenging social and economic circumstances, they are incredibly focused, concerned about their educational investments, hardworking and don't take success for granted," said Dr. Wolniak. "They put great pressure on themselves to do well and are determined not only to succeed individually, but also to achieve social justice. This generation appears to care a great deal about 'doing well by doing good.'"
Peter Hart, founder, Hart Research Associates, concurred, "After working with the Association for the past fifteen years, it is remarkable to see both the similarities and differences in young people over the past two decades. The 2016 survey points to a generation that is resilient, socially-conscious, career-driven and looking to make a real difference in this country. For our team, the State of Our Nation's Youth survey is such a meaningful project as it allows us a glimpse into the thoughts, concerns and dreams of those who will set the course for the United States in the coming years."
High school students surveyed were all enrolled in high school during the 2015 to 2016 academic year and recent high school graduates surveyed were ages 18 to 23, having graduated high school within the past six years. Among high school graduates, roughly two-thirds were pursuing some form of postsecondary education.
Horatio Alger Association aims to educate young people about the limitless opportunities afforded to them by the free-enterprise system. Since the establishment of its scholarship programs in 1984, the organization has awarded more than $125 million in undergraduate, graduate and specialized scholarships to students across the United States and Canada. The Association also annually bestows the Horatio Alger Award upon outstanding business, civic and cultural leaders who have succeeded despite facing significant adversity, and who are committed to philanthropy and higher education. Scholarships are funded solely through the generosity of Association Members, Life Partners and friends.
For the full State of Our Nation's Youth report, please visit www.horatioalger.org/news-events/state-of-our-nations-youth/. For more information about Horatio Alger Association, please visit www.horatioalger.org. Join the conversation on social media using #SONY2016 on Facebook (www.Facebook.com/HoratioAlgerUS), Twitter (www.Twitter.com/HoratioAlgerUS) and Instagram (www.Instagram.com/HoratioAlgerAssociation).
About Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans:
Founded in 1947, the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, Inc. is dedicated to the simple but powerful belief that hard work, honesty and determination can conquer all obstacles. The Association honors the achievements of outstanding leaders who have accomplished remarkable successes in spite of adversity by bestowing upon them the Horatio Alger Award and inducting them as lifetime Members. Horatio Alger Members support promising young people with the resources and confidence needed to overcome adversity in pursuit of their dreams through higher education. Through the generosity of its Members and friends, the Association awards more than $12 million annually in undergraduate and graduate need-based scholarships across the United States and Canada and provides college support and mentoring services to its Scholars. Since 1984, the Association has awarded more than $125 million in college scholarships to more than 22,000 deserving young people. For more information, please visit www.horatioalger.org.
About the Survey:
This memo summarizes key findings from a national online survey of 1,010 high school student and 502 recent high school graduates conducted on behalf of the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans. The interviews were conducted April 21 to 28, 2016.
 Participants qualified as high school students if they were enrolled in high school during the 2015 to 2016 academic year. Participants qualified as recent high school graduates if they were ages 18 to 23 and graduated high school within the past six years (most graduated in or after 2012).
To view the original version on PR Newswire, visit:http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/horatio-alger-association-releases-comprehensive-results-of-12th-state-of-our-nations-youth-survey-ahead-of-presidential-election-300326884.html
SOURCE Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, Inc.