Is college a good investment? Is a college degree likely to set me on the path to my dream career? Are there other, non-collegiate pathways to a solid economic future? Unfortunately, few people ask these questions today; that's because America has been sold on the false prophet that a four-year college degree is the only ticket to a successful and rewarding career.
Don't get me wrong; if a high school grad has a real calling to pursue a particular career that does require a college education, then I support that 100 percent. But for many, a traditional four-year stint at college is not the only, and certainly not the best, option. There are three solid reasons why the prevailing 'college for everyone' mindset needs careful consideration.
1 Employability: Economics of Supply v Demand
The data clearly shows that a four-year college degree no longer packs the same earnings or employability punch it once did, especially for nontechnical careers. In fact, many college graduates are finding it increasingly difficult to land a job at all. One reason is oversupply. Every year, the United States produces approximately 2.1 million college graduates, yet only 27 percent of jobs in the U.S. labor market currently require an associate's degree or higher. By comparison, more than 47 percent of workers actually hold an associate degree, while millions of jobs that require no higher level of education and remain vacant, begging to be filled. And, according to the U.S. Labor Department forecasts, this supply and demand imbalance is projected to grow, so that by 2022, only 23 percent of jobs will require a degree.
2 Affordability: The Rising Cost of Tuition
Total U.S. student loan debt has reached a record $1.2 trillion dollars. Student loan debt accounts for 6 percent of America's overall national debt, second only to mortgage-related debts. Two thirds of students graduate with some level of debt, with the average individual student loan debt doubling over the past decade, to reach $30,000.
Students are graduating with such debt because the cost of education is skyrocketing. Andrew Rossi in his documentary Throwing Rocks at the Ivory Tower suggests that the accumulated college tuition and fees have soared by over 1,000% since the late 1970s. College data shows fees for a public college averaged $22,826 a year and $44,750 for a private college. And that's not taking into account the costs of housing, books, and other living expenses. So where are these millions of dollars going? Certainly not to educating and equipping students with the knowledge and skills to succeed in the workplace. Instead, towards inflated administrative costs and salaries, recruiting bonuses to "celebrity professors" who spend more time publishing than teaching, fancy dormitories and athletic facilities, and other cosmetic expenses aimed at luring donors and wooing top students. For instance, one university spent its 'profits' buying the naming rights to a sporting stadium for over $150 million. Should students be really taking on debt to cover the costs like this?
3 Marketability: What are employers really looking for?
Too many colleges and universities are simply not equipping students with the technical, practical, or soft skills that companies are looking for. Even the top colleges are churning out students lacking the real-world, practical skills to succeed in the workplace - like the ability to communicate and work well with others, solve problems, and stay organized. According to a 2013 study conducted jointly by Chegg, an online resource for students, and Harris Interactive, only 39 percent of managers felt that recent college graduates they'd interviewed were job-ready. Overwhelmingly, they reported that recent grads were lacking in practical skills such as time management, communication, problem-solving and organization.
So if you or one of your loved ones is considering enrolling in a 4-year college, how do you decide if the decision is the right one?
Do the math. Before enrolling in any educational training program, understand what the total costs will be. Look at all the costs, not just the tuition. Consider housing, meals, travel as well as course materials. Then consider what other options are out there that deliver the most 'bang for your buck'.
Ask yourself: do I have the right learning style to succeed in a college environment? The fact is that every single human being on the planet is unique, and no two people posses the same combination of intelligences, skill sets, and methods of learning. So why should we be expected to follow the same cookie-cutter educational path? For example, some people just don't thrive in a traditional classroom but are masters when working with their hands. Are you one of them?
Consider whether what is being taught in the classroom is in line with your particular interests. Just as we all possess a huge range of different intelligences and aptitudes, so do we each possesses unique curiosities and ambitions. For some, the dream career may indeed be found in the halls of a law firm or investment bank, but for every one of these people there exists another equally intelligent individual who is just as passionate about building airplanes, or tinkering with robotics, or restoring antique furniture. While some people may aspire to save lives as a doctor or surgeon or cancer researcher, is it any less noble to dream of making a difference in the world as an emergency medical technician, or home healthcare aid, or a social entrepreneur? Figure out where your passions and ambitions lie, and see if they can be satisfied through traditional college.
Consider 'Jobs with Training' (JWT). If you haven't yet decided whether college is for you, why not try getting some real world experience before writing a hefty check or signing the loan papers - after all, would you sign a mortgage for a new house before you'd even decided whether or not to move? Taking up the JWT option provides incredible opportunities for all kinds of hands-on learning experiences while you make your decision. And, as a bonus, you get to earn while you learn. And despite what many would have you believe, a JWT path does not close the door to other academic or professional options. In fact, it can often be a springboard to greater educational and career advancement.
So the question is #toBAorNottoBA ? Ultimately, this is a question that only you can answer. It's not about following some artificially circumscribed path. It's about the right education, at the right time, for you.