Gearing up for SAT and ACT season? Countless families are shifting from summer mode to college prep mode as the application deadlines for most major universities draws near. Not surprisingly, many high school juniors and seniors have thought only of where they will attend college. In fact, not many been of these students have been asking themselves if they want to attend a four-year academic institution at all. As it turns out, “do I want to get a bachelor’s degree?” may very well be the $55,000/year question of the year.
For the last four decades, the United States experienced a cultural push for adolescents to earn bachelor’s degrees. In fact, data collected by the United States Census Bureau indicates a over a 28% percent increase in bachelor’s degree holders in 65 years: from 5% in 1940, to 33% in 2015. This year alone, around 33.4% of Americans reported having earned at least a bachelor’s degree, with many within that cohort having gone on to earn master’s and doctoral degrees. Statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show the substantial difference in earning potential for those with academic degrees and those without, the latter earns approximately $464 less in average weekly pay. It seems only natural then, to assume that most American parents intend on sending their children to four-year institutions to secure a bachelor’s degree, and, hopefully, higher salaries in the future.
But is committing to four years of study, $30,000 worth of student loan debt and an uncertain hiring pool the only option for leading financially secure adult lives? Perhaps not.
Recently, a contributor to PBS published an article claiming that the nation’s emphasis on attaining bachelor’s degrees after high school caused a number of adverse effects; particularly the erosion of vocational industries. You might be thinking, “what’s the big deal?” With a shortage of skilled trade workers, the demand for these positions are steadily increasing. Not to mention, the salaries for these careers. Interestingly, the article states that “The United States has 30 million jobs that pay an average of $55,000 per year and don’t require a bachelor’s degree, according to the Georgetown center.” That is a big deal. A massive deal. But that is not all.
Not only do a plethora of well-paying jobs exist that do not mandate $30,000 of debt, but “people with career and technical educations are actually slightly more likely to be employed than their counterparts with academic credentials, the U.S. Department of Education reports, and significantly more likely to be working in their fields of study.” Talk about thought-provoking, right?
So we leave you to ponder this information as your high school juniors and seniors begin contemplating their post-graduation plans. It may be worth considering a broader range of paths, including the pursuit of a vocational education or trade certification. While the benefits of college cannot be measured solely by one’s income, the desire to build a stable future for your kids may be more attainable than what we have been led to believe.