The American public finally realizes that college is often useless. Fifty-six percent think four-year college degrees are a waste of money, according to a recently released Wall Street Journal poll. In 2013, 40 percent of people agreed, according to the report accompanying the poll. In many cases, they’re correct. While college makes sense for some, not everyone needs it. Young Americans do need more clarity in developing the necessary skills to get their desired job.
Americans carry about $2 trillion in student loan debt, and higher education prices continue to rise. The best way to avoid this debt is to avoid student loans. Not everyone gets full scholarships to attend school, nor do they or their families have the money to pay for college out-of-pocket. Many jobs exist where people can earn a good living without a traditional college degree. Some trades have decent salaries, and other blue-collar union jobs that require neither a college degree nor a trade school certificate may offer solid base pay and significant overtime opportunities. That’s great, but not everyone has the connections to get a spot in the International Longshoremen's Association, Seafarers International Union of North America, or the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen. Also, some people aren’t proficient at manual labor. The idea that college is a waste doesn’t mean everyone must work with their hands or enter a trade to make a living.
Yet, college is a waste for at least three reasons. One is that many never finish college. About 40% of students drop out—and the rate is higher at private, for-profit colleges, many of which are complete scams. Those who drop out are unlikely to re-attend college and graduate. For those students, college is a waste of money. They spend hoping to get a credential to improve workforce prospects. But after spending that money, they receive no degree. In many instances, they’re worse off than if they had never gone to college in the first place.
Many people who finish college have jobs that don’t require degrees. Remember during the Great Recession when there were stories about Starbucks baristas with master’s degrees? That’s not the typical case, but many make that college investment and end up working a job that does not require a college degree. About one-third of college graduates aren’t using their degrees. They work in jobs outside their field that don’t require a degree. Some of my former college classmates are landscapers, realtors, and restaurant employees, and they make more money than they would if they had a typical journalism job.
Other avenues exist for people to get decent-paying white-collar jobs. If someone wants to be a doctor, architect, or pharmacist, they should attend college. However, we live in a country where some members of Congress, lawyers, journalists, and police officers lack college degrees. Some states allow people to take apprenticeships to learn about law rather than attending law school—or any college.
I work in journalism and learned the necessary skills outside the classroom. I learned by reading, writing articles, and getting feedback from people with more experience than me. The one year I attended Emerson College was a waste. I learned more about how much the teachers and students loved Bernie Sanders and hated Donald Trump than journalism.
At times, attending school was also a hindrance. When I was younger, I pursued sports journalism but sometimes had to miss school to work. When I was a senior in high school, I had to leave school early to interview Tim Wakefield for The Hingham Journal and some Pawtucket Red Sox players on PawSox media day for Yawkey Way Report. I got quotes for an article that was in the May 2015 issue of the program sold outside of Fenway Park. I started writing content mill garbage and daily fantasy sports picks and made about $200 per week between a bunch of low-paying writing gigs.
As a college freshman, I missed classes to cover high school sports games for The Patriot Ledger and The Brockton Enterprise. Additionally, I once skipped a school day to go down to Florida to interview David Ortiz. One hopes kids will consider the alternative pathways to break into their preferred profession if they want one where many people have college degrees. With the right work experience and training, they can build better resumes than their college-educated peers. Once that happens, maybe the higher education cabal will implode.