A college degree may be the most sought-after thing in the United States. Students are bombarded with the message that college equals success. I’ve grown up believing that the United States is a land of opportunity. When did we begin to limit opportunity to a college degree?
Merriam-Webster defines opportunity as “a good chance for advancement or progress.” The United States has long been nicknamed the “Land of Opportunity” which has, unfortunately, led most high school students to feel excessive pressure to attend college. College is a fantastic opportunity but it’s not the only opportunity.
It’s preposterous to say that college is meant for everyone. The public school system has taught us that college is important if you want a lot of money. Average college tuition costs around $29,000 per year. An average four-year degree totals $120,000. The cost of college has risen at an exponential rate. Let’s put this into perspective: if products rose at the same rate as college, we would be paying $22 for a gallon of milk. Students are incurring huge debts because they’ve been hustled into attending college, whether they want to or not.
But college guarantees a high paying job, right? In reality, the statistics are both astonishing and frightening. US News reports:
The number of college graduates working minimum wage jobs is nearly 71 percent higher than it was a decade ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest figures. As of 2012, 284,000 college graduates were working at or below the minimum wage, up from 167,000 in 2002 and more than two times the pre-recession low of 127,000 in 2006. The cohort includes an estimated 30,000 people with masters’ degrees, a figure that is more than twice as high as it was in 2002 and three times as high as in 2006.
We appreciate the value in education, but what about the value in technical skills? Technical skills are, after all, still in very high demand. Take, for example, my friend’s father, who works for a flooring company. His company offers an apprenticeship that starts out with a base pay of 55% of $30.28. After on-the-job training and four years with the company, the apprenticeship leads to a full-time job paying approximately $30.28 an hour. Despite the impressive hourly wage, the company has a hard time filling its apprenticeship. No one wants to do the hard manual labor, because we’ve been trained to believe that only college degrees will lead to good-paying jobs.
Guidance counselors don’t tell students this, but there are high paying jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree. In fact, Business Insider compiled a list of the top 40 high paying jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s. The top job is an air traffic controller, which requires an associates degree and on-the-job training. The median salary for this position, according to the Bureau of Labor, is $122,000.
They won’t advertise those statistics at a college fair. Society has ingrained this message in our minds that says people who don’t go to college will never make it far. An article published in The Daily Caller makes a very interesting point. “Bottom line is a college diploma isn’t for everyone: It can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and is a four-year commitment that could be spent learning a trade and getting a good start in life. But between pop culture and the cult of college, getting that message out is hard work.”
There are certain fields of study that absolutely require a degree, and students who want to go into those fields should pursue a higher education. It just makes sense: one can’t become a doctor without a strong educational background. But we need to start accepting that not all students are college material, or even need college to begin with. There is nothing wrong with that, in my book: there are other experiences that can be just as valuable as a college education.
Instead of scoffing at the choice to not attend college, we should celebrate a student’s decision to enter the workforce. A fancy piece of paper can’t guarantee someone success, but hard work helps lead that person down the path to success. The beauty of the United States is that our society still offers a great many opportunities for advancement. There is still value in continually advancing up the ladder.
Lastly, it’s important that students look for careers that will be self-fulfilling. There are countless jobs available to those who want to work hard and try new things. A big paycheck doesn’t mean as much if you hate your job. The key lies in finding a career that you are passionate about.
The decision to attend college is one of the most pivotal decisions a young person can make, and there isn’t anything wrong with choosing to forego attending college. College isn’t always synonymous with success, but hard work often is.