Lately there’s been a lot written questioning the value of a four-year college education. Here’s the headline from a story in Fortune: “Many Gen Zers don’t believe they need a college degree for a successful career. They might be right.” The story goes on to note this generation is most interested in flexibility and passion-driven work, followed by financial security.
The story also reports the tight job market is pressuring companies to consider “skills-based hiring” rather than requiring a college degree. In 2016, IBM coined the term â€œnew collar jobs” meaning those that require specific, teachable skills rather than a degree â€“ what used to be called â€œon the job training.”
Put the desires of young people together with the willingness of companies to accommodate them and you end up with many employees who went straight to work and are very satisfied …now.
I don’t think the Fortune headline’s right. They may end up with a good job in the short term, but not a successful career. And they may not be happier for it.
Consider another story, this one in the Washington Post: “Drop in college enrollment threatens to cause long-term economic, social consequences.” It notes the following ills resulting from a lower college-attending rate: “Slower economic growth. Continued labor shortages. Lower life expectancy. Higher levels of divorce. More demand for social services, but less tax revenue to pay for it.”
The WaPo story quotes Jason Lane, dean of Miami University’s College of Education, Health and Society: “[S]ociety is going to be less healthy. It’s going to be less economically successful. It’s going to be harder to find folks to fill the jobs of the future, and there will be lower tax revenues because there won’t be as many people in high-paying jobs. It will be harder for innovation to occur.”
Let’s unpack that quote. Lane is asserting that college graduates make more money in the long run, because they are equipped to adapt and grow into management positions. Jobs will be harder to fill because “skills-based” workers won’t have the capacity to move into positions that don’t yet exist that require skills they don’t have.
Lower tax revenues? According to the College Board, high school graduates earned a median of $24,900 less a year than people with bachelor’s degrees. People earning less pay less in taxes.
And lower life expectancy? WaPo noted that various studies have found people without college educations even die younger than people with them, from 5 to 12 years, depending on the study.
And what about happiness? Researchers at the universities of Texas and South Carolina found that high school graduates have a higher incidence of depression than college graduates, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported they are more likely to divorce.
The plain fact is that not everyone needs a four-year degree â€“ people who enter the trades can find their choice very rewarding and they’re vitally important to our economic growth, not to mention keeping your pipes intact, your electricity flowing, and your HVAC blowing cold air.
However, everyone needs the choice of attending college, regardless of their background and economic status, and the chance to be healthier, wealthier, and wiser.