By Michael Shaw
Throughout high school, teachers, guidance counselors, parents, and even fellow peers all contribute to the rule that college is unequivocally the next step following graduation. Logically following this comes the idea that one must attend the most “prestigious” college or university possible in order to secure one’s standing in the world from a young age. Such pressures beget behaviors like cheating, and often even manifest themselves mentally in chronic stress. While college can undoubtedly provide one with opportunities to succeed that would otherwise be unavailable, research indicates that it is not in fact as vital as many claim. In fact, many might be better off not attending college.
One important consideration to take into account is the massive cost of college. The average American college student graduates with a significant amount of debt; the Project on Student Debt puts the average debt for the Class of 2011 at 27,200 dollars or 34,000 dollars if parents’ loans are factored in. In fact, this debt can be so bad that according to the Department of Education, 8.8 percent of students default on their loans within just two years after graduating. Most would agree that going to college is not worth the cost if one defaults on his or her loans within just a few years of graduating, before he or she even has the chance to gain the benefits of a college degree. Therefore, those not in an economic position to go to college might want to consider other options. That being said, there are significantly cheaper avenues, such as receiving financial aid, attending community college, or even taking classes online. However, the traditional 4-year institution might not be the best path for everyone.
Even if cost is not an issue, something else to consider is actually graduating college. A surprising number of students that enroll in a four year degree program do not end up completing that degree. Specifically, the American Council on Education Rates notes that 6 year graduation rates for B.A. students have fallen to 56 percent. As discussed above, these dropout rates could be due to the high costs associated with attending college, which force students to drop out before completing their degree. This theory is supported by Dana Goldstein of The Nation who writes that “nearly one in five [students] who drop out leave only after accumulating $20,000 in debt.” However, another explanation independent of cost is offered by ACT College Readiness Benchmark statistics, which reveal that 75% of ACT-tested high school students are not educationally prepared to succeed in entry level college courses. Such striking statistics indicate that a large number of high school graduates simply did not receive a quality of education on par with college level education, meaning attending a 4-year institution might not be the best option for them due to their initial disadvantage. Attending college evidently is not worth the costs if one drops out before receiving a degree.
Finally, one must consider the current labor market and its relation to college graduates. Jacques Steinberg of the New York Times says “Of the 30 jobs projected to grow at the fastest rate over the next decade in the United States, only seven typically require a bachelor’s degree.” This means that in the current US economy, jobs that do not require a college degree will be more abundant than those that do, meaning that going to college might turn out to be a superfluous decision. In fact, Richard Vedder of Ohio State University notes that even today, “about 17 million college graduates have jobs that do not require a college degree. Not only is that 11 percent or so of the total labor force…but, more relevantly, it constitutes well over 30 percent of the working college graduates in the U.S.” Therefore there is little guarantee that obtaining a degree will obtain one a job corresponding to that educational attainment, rendering the time and money sacrificed essentially useless for those who do not. In fact, many researchers note that going to college sacrifices several years of work experience that could help open advance in the labor market more than a college education would. Some have gone even further and suggested that one could actually gain more money in the long run by investing money in the stock market than by putting that same amount of money into a college education. Such conclusions, although certainly varying for each individual, do provide reason to perhaps consider alternatives to a college education, especially when looking at recent trends in the US labor market.
In high schools across the country seniors are frantic about where they will end up next fall. While college is undoubtedly a sound investment for many, for others it simply might not meet the expectations built up around it. Possible reasons include staggering student loan debt, low graduation rates, trends in the labor market, and perhaps more beneficial alternatives. Unfortunately, pressure from sources like parents, teachers, and peers renders many unable to peel away from societal pressure to attend college. College should remain an important part of the United States, but high school students should not be afraid to consider alternatives as well.