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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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What Are the Biggest Challenges Young Adults Face Today?: Students Speak Up

Diane Demee-Benoit

Former Director of Outreach at Edutopia

New America Media, a nationwide network of over 700 ethnic-media organizations, received funding in 2006 from several foundations, as well as from the University of California's Office of the President, to conduct a survey of young people in California to better understand what young adults ages 16-22 feel are the primary issues impacting their lives.

The study -- one of the first ever to be entirely conducted by young adults' favorite communication tool, the cell phone -- had professional interviewers speak with 601 young Californians. Of those people, 31 percent attended public high school, 21 percent were enrolled a four-year college or university, 19 percent went to a two-year college, 19 percent weren't going to any school in California, 4 percent were students at private high schools, and 1 percent of students were in a General Equivalency Diploma program.

The results of the study paint an interesting picture of the upcoming generation. Among the major findings:

  • One in eight of the nation's young people live in California. Three-fifths of those in the age group are people of color, and almost half are immigrants or the children of immigrants. As the report cites, "This poll paints a portrait of a generation coming of age in a society of unprecedented racial and ethnic diversity -- the first global society this country has seen."
  • Twenty-four percent of the respondents consider the breakdown of the family to be the most pressing issue facing their generation today, followed by violence in neighborhoods and communities, and then poverty and global warming. However, several significant differences among racial and ethnic groups existed.

    White young adults named family breakdown as number one, followed by poverty and global warming. African American and Latino youth, however, believed violence in their communities was the most pressing issue facing their generation, followed by family breakdown and poverty. Asian American young adults, meanwhile, named family breakdown as the number-one issue, but they felt neighborhood violence was almost equally important, while poverty and global warming tied for third.

  • Personal finances and school ranked as high stressors. One-third of respondents said school causes the most stress, followed by money, personal relationships, and peer pressure. Asian Americans were significantly more likely than other groups to mention school as their biggest source of personal stress, while African Americans were more likely to mention money.
  • Young Californians embraced the state's increasing diversity. Most said that the majority of their friends were of a different race. They were just as likely to identify themselves by personal tastes in fashion and music, for example, as by traditional identity markers such as race and ethnicity.
  • Sixty-four percent of young Californians though they would be married or have a life partner at some point, and 63 percent believed they would have children.
  • Young Californians understood that postsecondary education is important. Over two-thirds expected to earn at least a four-year college degree, and 96 percent of respondents believed that if they work hard, they could achieve their goals.

What do you feel are the most pressing issues facing young adults today? What do you think about the results of this study? Please feel free to share your thoughts!

Diane Demee-Benoit

Former Director of Outreach at Edutopia
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Kendra's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a young African-American female from Mississippi and I feel the most pressing issuses young adults are facing are broken families, the lack of love and support, and money. The study said that 24% of the young adults in California felt that the breakdown of the family was important and I am wondering is that because 76% of them are in gangs? Do these young adults feel as if belonging to a gang fills that family void?

Colleen Warner's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Although these statistics would look a bit different for young adults in Michigan, I would imagine that breakdown of the family is the most pressing concern of young adults throughout our country. As an educator in Michigan, it saddens me. Aside from all that I can try to do as an educator, ultimately I know that family issues have a much great impact on students than I ever will. Is there such a thing as "family values" anymore? Has our society become so ego-centric and materialistic that selfless love has gone out the window?

Colleen Warner, MS Education, Teacher Leadership, Walden University

Shawna Carosello's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Those are interesting Statistics. I live in rural Southwest Colorado, and many of our students face similar issues. Our district has most of our students on free or reduced lunch. We have a high number of English as a second language and teen pregnancy is out of control. As an educator, I hope to have a positive influence and encourage a positive path. What steps do your schools take to motivate and encourage students, especially when their home stressors are so over powering?

Deborah Miner's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It amazes me that young adults share similar concerns across the nation. I teach Family & Consumer Science classes in Connecticut and I spend several weeks discussing these same concerns with my juniors and seniors. If not within their own family, all of the students have experienced family breakdowns in some way. They have developed a support group among their friend families to fill the voids in their lives.

Most everyone has been touched by some financial crisis and this is across all racial lines. The students worry about their material wants and as a class we try to identify their needs. The refocusing of priorities helps them to simulate what they may have to work on in the real world of life after high school.

Fortunately most of my students live without major violence in their lives. They are exposed to it through our inclusion of intercity students who attend our school during the school year. These students live with deep concerns for their own safety as well as their friends and family.

As a class we view and discuss the movie, Homeless to Harvard. There is always a compassionate silence as my students view this film. My students then write an essay on what they would do if they were a mentor of Liz if she were to attend our high school for a year. It is refreshing that they reflect on their blessings and are willing to help someone else.

I believe that our teens do face challenges as have teens in past generations have faced. I think that we have made some of these issues more difficult for the students to handle by romancing divorces and violence on the media. They do not see a lot of positive role modeling where you have to work on positive relationships and responsibility.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The biggest challenge facing many teenagers in Massachusetts is to fit in. Almost everyone wears the same clothes, talks the same, and has the same goal of having a boyfriend. School and sucess is not in their plans any longer, so an F on a test is no big deal to them-it is only school!

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