College Continues To Lose Luster
A trend that has played out for more than a decade continued last year as the college enrollment rate for U.S. high school graduates fell to 62%, down from 66.2% in 2019 and well below the all-time high of 70.1% in 2009, according to data from the U.S. Labor Department. (Data has not yet been captured for the years since 2019, though it’s anticipated dramatic declines occurred during the pandemic years of 2020-21.)
The Labor Department also reported that the unemployment rate for workers between the ages of 16 and 19 fell to 9.2%, the lowest rate in 70 years. Job growth in fields not requiring a college degree increased more than twice as fast as those for college graduates. The data shows a high number of job openings appear in construction, among other fields not requiring a college degree.
A shortage of available workers is driving up wages in most blue-collar fields, especially those like the skilled trades involving advanced training but not a college degree. Some skilled trades are averaging more than $25 an hour in wages, plus much more in benefits. Enrollment in various blue-collar apprenticeship programs has risen by more than 50% in the last decade.
College enrollment has dropped by around 15% during that time. Causes include skyrocketing costs and diminishing returns from a degree, with more than 40% of college graduates settling for jobs that don’t require a degree. A poll taken earlier this year by the Wall Street Journal found that most Americans don’t believe a college degree is worth the cost.
That’s what I was told in a recent conversation with a young family friend who has a degree in journalism and a job producing online content for a private company. He likes his job, but told me he still owes around $50,000 paying off student loans, even though he’s been out of school and earning income for more than five years. “I owe more now than when I started,” he lamented, citing interest charges. He and his fiancée live in a cramped apartment and are trying to save money to buy a home, but he shared with me the thought that this may be forever unattainable. His story is repeated many times over across the country.
The trades continue to look better and better. Compared with college, the investment is modest and the returns higher in income and job satisfaction.