Is faculty value it? What the analysis exhibits

Ben Kirkhoff, a high school senior at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul, Minnesota, knows a four-year college degree is not for him.

Though his parents have a college savings account for him, he says money is still a factor. “I don’t want to put myself and my family in too much debt.”

Instead, next fall, 17-year-old Kirkhoff will attend Dakota County Technical College in Rosemount, Minnesota to become an electrician. The two-year program leads to an apprenticeship and then to a full-time position. “I’m going to have a job right out of college and I know I’ll have a lot of job opportunities going forward,” he said.

His parents support his decision to pursue a craft degree rather than a bachelor’s degree, he said.

Though Kirkhoff is the only one of his friends who decided not to go to a four-year school next year, a growing number of high school students across the country are questioning the value of college.

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For decades, research has shown that a degree is almost always worthwhile.

According to The College Payoff, a report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, bachelor’s graduates generally earn 75% more than those with just a high school diploma — and the higher the education level, the bigger the payoff.

Graduating from college puts workers on track to earn a median $2.8 million over their lifetime, compared to $1.6 million if they only had a high school degree, he said Report.

But some experts say the value of a bachelor’s degree is dwindling now that college costs remain high and a labor shortage is increasing job opportunities — with or without a degree.

Most high-paying jobs still require a college degree

A growing number of companies, including many in the technology space, are dropping degree requirements for intermediate and even higher-level positions. In his State of the Union address last month, President Joe Biden said some new jobs “pay an average of $130,000 a year, and many don’t require a college degree.”

“Good luck” in finding those roles, said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce.

“Jobs for people without a college degree that make over $130,000 a year make up 1% of the American economy.”

Over time, jobs as a whole require ever more education, according to another forthcoming report from Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. And the fastest-growing industries, such as computers and data processing, still require workers with a disproportionately high level of education compared to industries that have not grown as rapidly.

Students from underserved communities view education through a practical lens.

Dan Fischer

President and CEO of the ECMC Group

In 1983, only 28% of jobs required post-secondary education and training beyond high school. By 2021, that share had risen to 68%, the report also found. In another decade it will rise to 72%.

Surely the recently passed Infrastructure Act will create more jobs for workers with high school diplomas or under. According to the White House, the legislation will create up to 1.5 million jobs annually over the next 10 years. “And there will be good jobs, but after that those jobs might be gone,” Carnevale said.

Students evaluate education ‘through a practical lens’

Most Americans still agree that college education is worth it when it comes to career aspirations and advancement. However, according to a separate report from Public Agenda, USA Today and Hidden Common Ground, only half believe the economic benefits outweigh the costs – and young adults are particularly skeptical.

The report found that the rising cost of college and the bloating of student loans have played a large role in changing views of the higher education system, which many believe is rigged to benefit the wealthy.

According to a study by the ECMC Group, only 45% of low-income, first-generation, or minority students believe post-high school education is necessary.

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High school students place more value on vocational training and post-college employment, the nonprofit found after surveying more than 5,000 high school students six times since February 2020.

“Students from underserved communities look at education through a practical lens,” said Dan Fisher, President and CEO of ECMC Group. “They want to know what it costs, how they pay, how they survive everyday life and whether there is a job down the road.”

More than half, or 53%, are open to an alternative path, and nearly 60% believe they can succeed without a degree.

However, most said they felt pressure – mainly from their parents, the community and internally – to attend a four-year school, when community college or vocational and technical training might make more sense.

Ulrich Baumgarten Ulrich Baumgarten Getty Images

There’s some bias toward trade school that’s hard to overcome, Fisher said. “We really need to destigmatize the notion that vocational and technical education is an ancillary form of post-secondary education.”

Historically, interest in alternative career and technical education programs has increased during economic downturns, Carnevale said. Still, he advises students to find a path to higher education, whether through a community college or an employer-sponsored tuition-reimbursement plan.

A degree offers the best chance of ending up in the middle class, Carnevale said. “You have to find a strategy.”

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