A Four-Year College Degree Is a Waste

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Of Time and Money — for Some People

Not everyone should be expected to go to college to make a reasonable income.

By PERRY AKINS

Special to Circling the News

A four-year college degree is certainly the right choice for most high school graduates. However, so is a one- or two-year certificate program in the crafts.

The determining factor should be the interest and passion of the high school graduate and not external forces, such as peers, high school counselors, teachers, parents and society in general.

When I grew up in a small farming community of 6,000 residents in the late ’40s and early ’50s, I knew of only one person with a master’s degree–the football coach. And, very few in the community had ever been to college.

That began changing when President Roosevelt passed the G.I. Bill in 1944. Three years later, 49 percent of college admissions were veterans. Colleges and universities began to grow and prosper.

In 1950, there were 432,000 four-year degrees awarded, with an estimated 40 percent being G.I. Bill students. Last year, the number of college graduates was estimated to be 1,821,000 students.

There were fewer college graduates hitting the pavement looking for work in the ’50s and ’60s and they had a significant advantage over the non-college grads. They represented a minority of the population and stood out among the crowd.

The graduates were considered to be above average in intelligence, motivation and reliability. However, as the number has increased over the decades, graduates have become less “special” just because of the increased number.

It has become obvious that almost anyone with either the money or willingness to take out student loans is able to get into a college and obtain a degree.

And, the unspoken word around high school campuses is that if you have no interest in a four-year college degree, you are obviously a loser. Of course, as parents we would find some discomfort in sharing with our friends that our daughter or son had decided to become an underwater welder (making more than $100,000 a year) instead of pursuing a bachelor’s degree in computer science.

Trending today are companies that are taking a second look at degree requirements. They are coming to the realization many positions do not require a college degree.

Any one of us can name dozens of careers that today require college degrees which can be performed quite well by persons without a college degree.

As job openings become harder to fill, employers are taking a closer look at educational requirements and are in fact lowering those requirements where formal education is not necessary.

Add to that the number of career opportunities that have never required a bachelor’s degree such as the building trades, plumbing, welding, automotive repair, electricians and other crafts that are in such short supply.

College graduates need to understand that having a degree no longer gives them elite status. Everyone and their cousin has a bachelor’s degree resulting in the declining value of the degree.

The return on investment of time and money comes into question as colleges and universities have increased tuition rates much faster than inflation through the years.  These tuition increases have been one of the primary underlying causes of the 1.5-trillion-dollar student loan debt.

High schools are graded/ranked on the percentage of graduates who enroll in a four-year university (not on the number who actually graduate). Because of that focus, it is really a challenge for students to learn about other career opportunities that do not involve a college degree at their schools.

Therefore, the primary responsibility falls on the student to independently seek out those opportunities that he/she is passionate about. The internet has certainly made such searches easier. And, if the student is lucky, his/her parents will provide guidance and support with this search.

Hopefully, in the not too distant future, high schools will begin introducing students to the scores of career options available, in addition to college.

(Editor’s note: Perry Akins is a member of the Pacific Palisades Rotary Club and Chairman of iTEP International.)

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