April 7, 2022

What About Ditching College?

Enrollment is down at institutions of higher learning as prospective students look into more appealing alternatives.

It seems that more high school students and their parents are coming to terms with the fact that not everyone has to go to college. A few years ago, many parents assumed the only question for their child after high school was which college to attend. Now, the after-graduation question is whether to attend college at all.

The number of students going directly from high school to college in 2020 dropped 21% from the prior year. Many high school graduates chose to work or pursue other endeavors over taking and paying for a year of college on their laptop.

This drop was due in large part to COVID and our poor management of the pandemic. Other trends indicate that this turn away from college is not an aberration but perhaps an opportunity for us to free ourselves of the damaging idea that a costly college education is a must in our society.

“Are you going to college?” “Where did you go to college?” “What did you study in college?” Ever been peppered with these questions? It is endemic in our country to assume that everyone is going, has been, or aspires to go to college. Having a college degree is portrayed as a Wonka ticket that magically opens career doors and feeds you gobs of money and success. It’s far from it.

It’s hard to know when our nation’s cultural obsession with college began. Maybe in the 1990s, when co-President Hillary Clinton openly mused that every child should have the chance to go to college. But it’s evident now that colleges and universities and lenders see public high schools as little more than feed stations for the higher education industry. The people who enroll in college are called students, but they’re really customers. The academics want to indoctrinate them in the leftist agenda. The administrators want to expand the campus to attract new clients. The lenders want to put financial hooks into them that stick for decades.

In a recent poll of people who have graduated from college in the last five years, 19% said they were under-qualified for their first job. Over half had not applied to an entry-level job in their field because they felt unqualified.

Additionally, three out of every eight students who started college will drop out before completing their degree. And a Gallup poll from last year revealed that 45% of parents want to see more non-college options for their children.

Armed with these and other dismal facts, parents and potential students must ask themselves: What’s it all for? College doesn’t guarantee success and happiness, nor does a lack of college guarantee failure and misery. Far from it. Furthermore, high school students stand as good a chance at success in learning a trade and going straight to work — and without the massive debt that cripples the economic lives of so many college graduates.

The college bubble’s been ready to burst for a while. The economic value of a college education was already dropping before COVID. Enrollment is dropping and the costs are growing to unsustainable levels, but the higher education industry still believes it can keep things going.

Colleges are lowering the hurdles of entry for less academically qualified students. This is framed as reaching out to “underrepresented populations,” and it gives institutions something to brag about when they solicit donations from alumni networks and Pell grants from the federal government. By the way, doubling the Pell grant is one of Joe Biden’s line items in next year’s budget. Of course, exclusivity in obtaining a quality education is one of college’s selling points. If anyone can get in, exclusivity goes away. Or, as Syndrome put it in “The Incredibles,” “If everyone is special, no one is.”

Colleges are cutting costs in other areas as well: trimming staff, getting faculty to take pay cuts and take on a larger student load, and, of course, raising tuition. In the end, though, it’s all about enrolling students. Enrolled students are paying students. And that’s all colleges and universities really care about.

Remember: Higher education is neither a public service nor a prerequisite to a better life. It’s a business. And not everyone is required to be a consumer. The pathway to success is wide and varied, and it may indeed run through a college campus. But it certainly doesn’t have to.

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