US High School Students' Entrepreneurial Ambition at New Low

Justin McCarthy

Monday, April 24th, 2017

While entrepreneurial ambition remains steady among U.S. students overall, high school students' intentions to start their own business are at the lowest level in five years, according to the latest Gallup-HOPE Index report. More than one in four students in grades nine to 12 (27%) say they plan to start a business, down from the 33% to 35% range found among this group from 2011 to 2015. In contrast, a majority of students in grades five to eight (55%) say they plan to start their own business.

There has been a gap in entrepreneurial ambition between these two student groups since the index began in 2011. While half or more students in grades five to eight have consistently expressed intent to start a business, students in later grades have lagged behind. The Gallup-HOPE Index's latest figures reveal the largest gap in entrepreneurial ambitions between these two groups since 2011.

The ongoing gap between the two student groups suggests that dreams of starting a business decline in high school for many students. This could reflect that students' goals change as they age, or perhaps some students become less interested in entrepreneurship as they become more familiar with it.

Despite lower entrepreneurial intent, high school students (60%) are more than twice as likely as fifth- to eighth-grade students (27%) to say their school offers classes in how to start and run a business.

Younger U.S. Students Less Likely to Learn About Business in School
My school offers classes in how to start and run a business.
  Grades 5-8 Grades 9-12
  % %
Agree 27 60
GALLUP-HOPE INDEX, Sept. 12-Nov. 7, 2016

Bottom Line

The majority of students in grades five to eight have intentions of starting their own business, but few have access to classes on how to achieve this goal later in their lives. Meanwhile, their older peers in high school lack entrepreneurial ambition, despite increased availability of classes on the subject. This could suggest that as children get older -- and perhaps have a better sense of what kind of work they want to do and the work involved in that role -- they find the idea of being a business owner less appealing.

Schools with fifth- to eighth-grade students could harness their students' budding entrepreneurial inclinations by providing more opportunities to teach them how to turn their ambitions into reality later in life. It is possible that expanding the availability of these learning opportunities at an earlier age will help young aspiring entrepreneurs maintain focus on their business dreams as they get to high school and beyond. High schools can also use entrepreneurial learning offerings as a key strategy to enhance learning skills for students.

To address the slowdown in U.S. GDP growth, business and education leaders will need to find a way to give the next generation of entrepreneurs the tools they need to keep their ambitions alive.