By Derek Newton
Reposted from Forbes, with permission
It’s trendy to dismiss college. That is, to downtalk the value and reward of a college education. It’s so popular that in the past decade bashing college has become an industry and talk-track all its own.
A large part of that college skepticism is centered on mythology, of course. That college costs are spinning wildly out of control, for example. Not true. Or that you don’t need a college degree to get a good job. Also, not true.
It’s that last part – the bit about not needing a college education to get a good job – that could spell serious and life-long trouble for a generation. If young people buy the hype and bypass college, they will likely miss out on their best and perhaps only ticket to even middle-of-the-road prosperity.
A recent report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce makes that danger very clear.
The report says bluntly, “Postsecondary education is no longer just the preferred pathway to middle-class jobs—it is, increasingly, the only pathway.”
Note it said “middle-class jobs” – not wealth. Just to reach the quasi-comfortable middle will increasingly require a college education.
Honestly, this is not news. The Georgetown report also says, “Since the early 1980s, the American economy has transitioned from one with strong job prospects for workers with less than a high school diploma to one that relies heavily on workers with postsecondary education or training. During this period, the share of jobs held by workers with less than a high school diploma plunged from roughly one-third to less than 10 percent.”
And the trend will accelerate, says Georgetown. “In 2021, about 68 percent of all jobs required at least some postsecondary education. By 2031, we estimate that 72 percent of jobs will require postsecondary education or training. In fact, 42 percent of all jobs will require at least a bachelor’s degree,” the report found.
Looking at the math another way, the report says that over the next decade there will be about 18.5 million open jobs every year. More than two-thirds of those jobs “will require at least some college education.” In other words, if you think you may be looking for a job in the next ten years, doing so without at least some college education will cut your options dramatically.
Maybe that’s too sterile to make the point – too much college report-speak.
Try it this way. The people at Georgetown who study these trends and numbers say, “The fastest-growing occupation and industry sectors are those that have workers with the most postsecondary education and training. The economy will continue to create jobs for workers with a high school diploma or less. But these jobs, in many cases, do not offer high enough earnings for the workers who hold them to adequately maintain a home and raise a family.”
Yes, in many cases, even the jobs someone can get with no college or career training will not pay enough to maintain a home and have a family. That sounds grim. And it’s the kind of future that college deniers seem determined to push when they encourage people to skip college because, as they like to say, “it’s not worth it.”
But it’s not the case at all that college does not pay. The truth is that, more and more, college is all that pays.
The numbers do not lie. Having a four-year degree from an accredited, reputable, non-profit or public school pays more than a million dollars in extra lifetime earnings compared to someone with a high school diploma only.
And sure, student debt is a burden. But that’s also wrapped up in a ton of mythology, repeated by the college doubters. The truth is that most student loan balances are less than the average loan amount for a used car. According to the most recent data, a majority of student loan borrowers owed less than $20,000, while nearly one-in-three owed less than $10,000.
Maybe it’s just me, but even if you have to borrow $20,000 to make $1.2 million, it seems like the deal of a lifetime. And it is. Skipping college is increasingly a very bad gamble.
What’s less clear is why some people keep wanting to wave others off a deal like that, relegating them to job options that don’t pay much, if they can find them at all.