When I was a college student, I often asked myself: "Is all this going to be worth it?"
I spent good money for my studies, and luckily it has worked out well for me. However, for many of us, doing so may actually no longer be the best option.
Spending tens of thousands, even more than $100,000 for a degree which may not really have much career potential doesn’t make much sense, yet we still see high school graduates buying into the idea that college is absolutely necessary. Why?
In decades past, people were able to work their way through school with a part-time or full-time job. However, for those going to school today, that's not as viable.
A college student is generally not going to be able to work a full time job and go to school full time. One can apply for scholarships to help reduce the cost of going to school, and maybe even get a full-ride scholarship; if you do, awesome! But once it’s all said and done, what are you able to do with a given degree? Will it provide something valuable to the market, that can really assist in getting work?
Far too many times, that is simply not the case. The market is being flooded with people who have college degrees, and the true value of a that degree, for many areas of study, has actually declined, though the price of it has increased exponentially. We can attribute the price increase to the increasing availability of loans.
With student loans being made more available, universities have subsequently increased their tuition prices to take in more money. The ones that suffer from this are those who take the loans, not the universities.
Students graduated with an average of about $33,000 in student loan debts. This is a huge burden for those looking to get into the job market. A large portion of our paychecks, from whatever jobs we can find, will be going to paying off our debt; continuously sending your money to Sallie Mae for up to a decade is no way to build a satisfied and happy life.
So, before you go off to college, or send your child off to college for that matter, seriously consider what they will have once they graduate. Is it going to really pay off, in that this area of study desperately needs people, or will it just be a piece of paper that’s never used, but have a mountain of debt to accompany it?
Maybe there’s something else to consider though, instead of college. Are you open to new ideas? Or rather, a re-opening of some very old ideas and practices?
Try looking for an apprenticeship in the field you desire to work in. It’s more cost effective than college, and one can gain actual work experience in a given field. Indeed, as Economist Michael Strain writes, apprenticeships "marry on the-job training with an academic course of study, often based at a community college. Students benefit because they receive an academic credential; actual, real-world work experience; and a paycheck."
One can gain a great deal of knowledge and skills during an apprenticeship. This model is practiced very frequently in Germany, with nearly 60% of young people “dual training” in fields such as IT, manufacturing, banking, and hospitality.
However, the German model of apprenticeship is one that is both costly and requires a great deal of government intervention, including mandated standardization of the curriculum. Such intervention takes resources from businesses through higher tax rates, but also through more bureaucratic red tape that slows down economic growth. There is a better approach, a free market solution.
Here in the United States, there’s a certain mindset that needs to be broken. The Germans have it right in that apprenticeships are a viable way to gain employment. But what do we need to do here in the United States to expand our horizons?
For one, we need to bust the myth that “college for all” is a viable economic growth. We cannot continue to force kids into college, jam their minds full of myths that debt is a good thing, and expect to have healthy economic growth. One cannot spend their way into prosperity; debt is not a vehicle toward success, it’s a ball and chain.
The alternative is apprenticeships, where high school students and recent graduates enter a workplace not as traditional employees, but as students of the workforce in that particular industry. The employees and supervisors train that apprentice in the skills required to do the job correctly.
During the learning process, an apprentice may not be the most productive employee on the floor, that’s a given. But the idea is to impart to them the skills needed to become productive, and to do so without burdening either party.
Both stand to gain: the apprentice to gain employment, the employer to gain an employee, hopefully in the manner in which they trained the apprentice.
It will take some time to convince people that college is not always the best option for everyone. “College for all” is really a foolhardy idea that has only created a massive student loan bubble, with many graduates hardly ever using their degree. Maybe, just maybe, we should try and alternative method of job training?
Note: This story is an updated version of an article I wrote on LinkedIn while in college in 2014.