According to a report released this week by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, half of working 2010 college graduates are in jobs that require less than a bachelor’s degree, and 38 percent are in jobs that don’t even require a high school diploma.
The report also found the number of college grads will grow by 19 million between 2010 and 2020, while the number of jobs requiring a college education is projected to grow by less than 7 million.
U.S. Census figures show the percentage of college graduates has steadily increased since 1940.
In 1940, 5% of the population aged 25 and older held a bachelor’s or higher degree. By 2009 that percentage had increased five times to 30%.
According to the Pew Research Center, a record one in five households has student loan debt. That’s more than double the rate from 20 years ago.
As a society we tell young people “you have to go to college if you want to be successful… if you want to get a good job.” We tell them a college degree is their ticket into the door of gainful employment. If they aspire to do more than flip hamburgers they need a degree.
And while I don’t disagree a college degree can be helpful… it can elevate you as a job candidate over others who don’t possess a degree, I also know that college is not for everyone.
College is also a lot more expensive than it used to be.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics the average annual cost of attending a four-year institution (both public and private) in 1981 was $8000. By 2011 that cost had risen to $21,000.
I graduated from college in 1985. I put myself through school by working a job, not taking out student loans. I also attended a two year junior college followed by a local state university. Yes, I accrued about $6000 in credit card debt to help cover my living expenses, but that debt was paid off within a year of graduating. I also got a job in my desired field within a month or so of graduating, and was able to easily maintain gainful employment in that field for years, until I decided to start my own business.
Hardly the case for many college students these days.
As I wrote in Breaking the Spell the competitive academic arena has seen to that. Kids spend their high school careers focusing on how to get into college. And not just college, but the best college. While some earn scholarships and grants, many take out student loans to finance a degree from these coveted schools. Tuition at an elite private university can top $200,000 over the course of four years. That’s a lot of debt to take on when that degree may not even get you a job. And today, that college diploma just doesn’t seem to be the golden ticket it was in year’s past.
I’m not saying kids shouldn’t go to college.
I’m also not saying they shouldn’t aspire to go to the college of their dreams, if that’s what they really want and if they can afford to.
But college is not for everyone. The book Boys Adrift discusses a shortage of skilled trade workers due in large part to the “bad rap” the trades have received. When my kids were in high school, it was very competitive. The focus was on getting the best grades, participating in extracurricular activities such as sports, and getting top test scores, so they could get into a good college. In fact, my kids always talked about going to college. Not so much because we pushed it. Because it just seemed to be what A students do after high school. It’s what their high school groomed them to do. And, as a parent, of course you want your kids to be successful.
And college equals success, right? Maybe… maybe not.
While both my kids were A students in high school, they have since taken very different paths.
One earned a scholarship and secured grants to attend a prestigious, private, liberal arts college. It was a great life experience for her. She earned a bachelor’s degree and is now pursuing a graduate degree because it is required to work in her field of choice: psychology.
My son, on the other hand, chose to attend a local state university. After two years of feeling lost, he chose to drop out. It was clear to us all that at least for right now, college is not the right place for him. It’s an expensive place to “find yourself” if you aren’t sure what you want to do. Will he go back one day? I honestly don’t know. My only wish for him is to find work he enjoys and that makes him happy. That may or may not involve a college degree.
As the current research shows, that coveted college degree is no guarantee either.
I think it’s time to step back and re-evaluate the mentality that says “you have to go to college.”
We ought to stop measuring people’s worth based on their level of education.
Yes, education can be valuable. But it’s not the only path.
We ought to encourage our kids to spend their time exploring and discovering what excites them. What they’re good at. What they want to spend their life doing. Considering how they can best serve the world while making a living and supporting themselves. And to not feel “less than” if they decide college is not the right path for them.
In many ways I feel as though I’m now helping my son recover from all of this.
He’s smart. He’s talented. And, he’s a good kid. So college wasn’t the right fit for him, or at least not right now. That’s OK. He shouldn’t have to feel bad, or like he failed. He ought to be able to feel free to discover what does make his heart sing.