I'm of those who believe that excesses in all matters are not a good idea, whether it's formation of bubbles, whether it's excess in the financial market, whether it's excess of inequality, it has to be watched, it has to be measured, and it has to be anticipated in terms of consequences.
- Christine Lagarde
In my opinion, we’ve had a general (but profound) shift in how we view college in our culture today. This shift has spiked college attendance among Millennials and thereby indirectly stoked our student debt. I saw this shift happening even when I was in high school, 20 years ago, although I didn’t realize its significance at the time.
I think the average person today believes a college education is the only way to get a decent income. That it’s the only path to get a good life. When talking to young people about aspirational futures, we never discuss the trades or “working your way up the ladder” or adding unique skills that employers crave. We also don’t talk much about entrepreneurship, save becoming Instagram stars. Instead, our culture tells our young people, over and over again, in no uncertain terms: “You’ve got to go to college to get the life that you want.”
If you go to most high schools today, the people in charge of educating our youth — counselors, principles, teachers — are all academics. They all went through college. You have to get a degree, or several, to get into teaching. So those who run our schools are biased. Their message is absolutist: you’ve got to go to college!
When I told people I wasn’t going to college, everyone looked down at me. As if that one choice meant I had thrown my life away and was automatically a failure. Now, I have nothing against teachers or educators in general. In fact, I love working with them. Many need serious help with their student loans, and they also qualify for some of the best programs available. But when I chose the trades over college, my decision did not exactly resonate with teachers and friends.
The point I’m making is that our culture has shifted. Most kids today (along with their parents) believe that the path to a good life must absolutely go through college. I’m not saying that they’re wrong, and I’m right. I’m just saying we collectively didn’t always regard college as the one righteous path.
My parents’ generation went to college. They came out with a degree, and that degree set them up with a good job — a stable job they could work for 30 plus years. So, logically, they taught the next generation what had worked for them. But that path simply does not work today for the average person.
Before I go any further, I need to acknowledge the Census Bureau’s analysis that “people who get a master’s degree make a little over a million dollars more than people who only get a high school diploma over their lifetime.”
I also know that many professions require the credentials of higher education — law, science, anything in the medical field, etc. Today, almost 65% of all jobs require a college degree. In other words, if you don’t have college credentials, your job options become significantly crimped.
But getting a college education doesn’t guarantee anything. Further data also shows that 73% of college graduates today do not go into the field they studied for.
It’s a double bind. Not going to college sets many up for failure by forcing them into a game of musical chairs for America’s crappiest, lowest-paying jobs. A high school diploma seems almost useless in our society today. Yet going to college marches young people right into the student loan trap plus doesn’t ensure that their higher education will give them the skills needed in the workforce today.
So before taking on a long-term financial burden in the form of student debt everyone should make sure to choose the form of education that suits best their future success. And if you are someone who already has student loan, then look into real- world solutions available to you.