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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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