An alarming—yet illuminating—new study conducted by Third Way, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, concludes that many who go to college come out earning less than the typical salary of a high school graduate. Contrary to popular opinion, which contends that the path to success is rooted in attaining a college education, the findings indicate that half of U.S. colleges in 2018 left their students earning under $28,000 a year.
In past generations, primarily the upper-class, wealthy elites attended universities. After World War II and the passing of the G.I. bill, soldiers returning from the battlefields were offered financial assistance to attend college—and they did so in large numbers. Slowly over time, in the ensuing decades, enrolling into college became almost commonplace for the average American. Today, there is great pressure put upon high school students to attend universities—even if they lack the aptitude or interest. Sometimes the pressure exerted on kids to attend top-tier institutions is intense. This was clearly exemplified by the recent college admittance scandal, in which the rich and famous parents allegedly bribed school officials to get their children into ivy league and top-tier universities.
Along with the general acceptance of college for everyone, the tuition has grown beyond belief. We are now making 17- and 18-year-old kids take on loans in the neighborhood of up to—and in excess of—$200,000. These same young adults are prohibited from voting, smoking and other things, which require you to be considered an adult and mature enough to render an important decision. How many adults do you know of that you’d feel comfortable loaning $200,000 to and feeling confident that they’ll use it wisely? Would you allow the recipient of the loan to stay up late on weeknights attending parties, drinking and smoking pot? Would you permit the person to invest the funds in a venture that was fun, interesting or about a social cause, but lacked any ability to earn a profit or become a sustainable business? Of course not! However, this is the very thing we are doing to our children.
Once in college, there is a proliferation of courses and majors in subject matters that may be interesting, but don’t lend themselves to a real job—paying a reasonable living with the opportunity to advance. These kids graduate with a degree that is not marketable. On top of that, they are saddled with an enormous student debt that may be impossible to ever pay back.
Data from the federal government indicates that many students will leave their academic careers with employment opportunities and compensation that fall far short of what they were led to believe would happen. To compound the problem, when the new graduates realize the slim prospects of opportunities available, they’re encouraged to pursue even more expensive education by signing up for graduate school or a law degree. Then, on top of their already-big burden of loans, they’ll pile up even more potentially ruinous debt.
The study states what should be obvious to most rational people—it’s imperative that prospective students—and their parents—only consider institutions that serve them well by being able to make a living. College rankings are important. It’s great to live at a school with a beautiful campus. Parents love to brag about the name of the school that their children attend. We need to filter out the unessential trappings and look for rankings that focus on the factors that truly benefit students, such as how likely they are to pay back their loans and whether or not they can get a well-paying job with their major—not on things like prestige and exclusivity.
Working as a tradesperson or in a blue-collar type of job was once seen as acceptable and a means toward becoming middle class. Somewhere along the way, as a culture, we started to look down upon those who chose to be a carpenter, electrician, plumber or related function. This further placed pressure on parents to guide their children away from these roles and toward going to college, even if they weren’t emotionally or mentally ready—or even interested. The irony is that blue-collar workers earn a handsome living. Think of how hard it is to get a person to do some work on your home. Many times, a tradesperson starts out as a heating, air conditioning and HVAC apprentice and, 10 years later, he has a thriving business, managing a fleet of trucks and servicing a substantial clientele that pays handsomely for their services.
The study is a wake-up call to take a cold, hard look at what we are doing to our children. According to the data from the study, we are misleading them with false hopes and resigning them to low-paying jobs and a not-so-bright future.