Growing disillusionment over the value of a four-year college degree has has many high school graduates and their parents rethinking whether it's the right financial decision.
In a recent Gallup poll, 46% of parents said they would prefer their child pursue an alternate to a bachelor's degree – with more than one-third citing finances as an obstacle. And according to a Federal Reserve study, just 56% of adults under age 30 who have degrees say the benefits outweigh the costs, Bloomberg reports.
In general, the older one is, the more value they see in the value of college – which is supported by data. Overall, a bachelor's degree increases a person's lifetime earnings by 75% vs. those with a high school diploma, according to (not exactly unbiased) research from Georgetown.
That said, it's becoming harder and harder for younger Americans to stomach crippling student loans while tuition has outpaced even today's inflation.
This growing disillusionment is showing up in enrollment data. The number of students registered in undergraduate programs plummeted during the pandemic and continues to fall, defying expectations for a rebound as in-person learning resumed. There were more than 662,000 fewer students registered in spring 2022, a 4.7% drop from the year prior, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. -Bloomberg
College degrees have historically increased a person's job opportunities – and for sure, that still holds true for jobs requiring esoteric knowledge – however things are beginning to change in the tightest labor market in decades, as many industries have begun relaxing or scrapping college-degree requirements altogether. What's more, jobs which don't require a degree have seen wages jump as employers have to pay up amid a worker shortage.
"I definitely feel like I have received tenfold what I put into my education," said 38-year-old E.C. Crippen, a hairdresser in Tennessee, who says that opting for a professional license vs. a bachelor's degree was one of the best decisions of his life. Crippen dropped out of a state university over a decade ago and instead enrolled in a 10-month program at the Tennessee School of Beauty in Knoxville. Now, he makes around $120,000 per year.
"I have a job that I love," he added.
Tuition was inflating before it was cool
Students faced with taking on a giant – non-dischargeable debt, are reeling from sticker shock – as the average tuition and fees at a private college topped $38,000 in the 2021-22 academic year. In-state schools are a much more affordable option at $10,740.
Some degree-holders, even ivy league graduates, are finding that their expensive decisions aren't paying off.
Gregory Lowry, a 26-year-old teaching coach, graduated from Brown University with $165,000 in student loan debt for a degree in chemistry and anthropology.
He originally planned to go to medical school, justifying the $66,000 undergraduate annual tuition. But by the time he graduated, he realized his true calling was education. Had he discovered his passion earlier, Lowry said he likely would have chosen a different school and degree that would have resulted in less debt.
Now, he makes a point to tell his students about alternate pathways after high school that make financial sense for their families.
“It's really important for people to have time to experience what they need to before jumping into a $100,000 decision,” he said. -Bloomberg
According to the Gallup poll, around 1/3 of parents who went to college themselves don't want their kids to follow in their footsteps – particularly those (obviously) who found that their degrees made no difference in their income.