The Problem Starts With How We View It

My high school made a point of bragging about how 100% of its graduates attended college. Our principal engrained in students’ minds from their freshman years that a college education was what we all should aspire to. The guidance counselors did whatever they could to guide students to enroll anywhere. When someone decided to go to community college or considered enlisting or taking time off from school, students and parents alike wrongfully passed implicit judgments about them, their abilities as a student, and their priorities in life.

Everyone at my school had noble intentions in what they did and said. After all, they wanted all of the students to live the best lives possible and to them, college was the only viable route.

While college is necessary for important and lucrative jobs in fields such as medicine and law, it doesn’t have to be the only way to success for students. For some, college isn’t the best option for a variety of reasons. What started as parents and teachers wanting their children to have better lives than they did has evolved to an attitude held in certain areas of the country and at certain schools where college is now expected of teenagers.

A college education used to be something that was highly sought after but not always attainable or practical In the last 50 years, college enrollment has leaped from 6.92 million students every year to 23.29 million.

Now, with more students than ever attending college and with student loans being encouraged because of the business promise in education, debt is accruing and students graduate not being able to make ends meet.

Over 44-million United States students currently owe $1.26 trillion in debt. In 2008, 1.1 million students graduated in debt; four years later, that number had already climbed to 1.3 million. The tables on and chart on provide additional insight into these statistics.

Comparatively, 7.2% of recent college graduates not pursuing master’s degrees were unemployed in 2015, as opposed to the 5.5% five years earlier and the national rate of 5.3%. Furthermore, 14.9% of those new graduates entering the work force were underemployed, while only 9.6% had been so in 2007.

When the select few who attended college up until around the 1980s graduated and were looking for their elite jobs, a majority of their high school classmates had already been in the work force and making decent livings as mechanics, barbers, and secretaries for a few years. The emphasis that we as a society place on going to college and getting the best job as possible, while consistent with the American spirit of growth and opportunity, has changed the makeup of that sector of the country.

As the years pass and Baby Boomers and their children begin to get phased out of the work force, one of two things can happen to our country: either there will be drastically less manual laborers and skilled workers so the economy will struggle to function or thousands of hopeful graduates who just incurred trillions of dollars of debt collectively who can’t find employment in their intended careers will have to take their liberal arts degrees (I am a pessimistic psych major) to factories and construction sites.

At that point, regardless of which scenario plays out, we will have to consider how we can modify our educational system. College is the pathway to many successes and a great opportunity that I am very thankful for.

However, it is not the only path.

Although there is more money in computer science, finance, and engineering than in being a bartender, farmer, or tailor, there are still ways to make money without devoting four years of your life to an education and an additional decade to paying for it. According to a Business Inside article ranking some of the best paying jobs that don’t require bachelor’s degrees, the median salaries of jobs like dental hygienist, air traffic controller, and criminal investigator range from $70,000-$123,000.

My intent in this post wasn’t to say that some people aren’t good enough to go to college or that college is all a scam (which it might be) or to encourage you to be the next Bill Gates and drop out of college and create something-because then I’d be a hypocrite. If there is something that you want to study and that you feel that is possible for you, then nothing should hold you back from accomplishing the goals you have.

However, from seeing how college was viewed at my high school and how those expectations influenced my peers because of the pedestal that we place college on that is so far above any other life choices, I just believe that we need to show students that all hope isn’t lost if you don’t go to college. There are always additional opportunities and the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

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