College Gets More Thumbs Down

College Gets More Thumbs Down

by Jim Olsztynski | January 24, 2024 | Benefits of Choosing a Career in the Trades Blog Job Security Student Debt | 0 Comments

It skipped my attention for a while, but I recently became aware of a Gallup survey published last July that showed only a little more than a third of Americans expressed confidence in the value of a college education. As recently as 2015, 57% of Americans said they had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in higher education. Earlier this year when the latest survey was taken only 36% said so. That’s quite a drop in a relatively short period of time.

A major factor in this loss of faith is of course the rising cost of attending college. According to a study by Georgetown University, the cost of attending a college rose by an average of 169% between 1980 and 2020. When I was a youngster – admittedly a long time ago – it wasn’t unusual for people to, as the saying went, “work their way through college.” That meant supporting oneself while obtaining a college education.

I was one of them. I am the first person in my working-class family to go to college. My folks could never afford to pay my way full or in part. However, as a veteran, I received free tuition at a state university (subsidized by my home state of Illinois), and from the G.I. Bill received a monthly stipend of $140 while enrolled as a full-time student (later raised to $210 a month when I got married in my sophomore year). Everything was a lot cheaper back then, but even so it was not enough for a self- supporting student like me to pay for rent, books, fees, groceries, etc. I supplemented my income by driving a taxi part-time throughout my college years. Yes, I worked my way through college.

It’s virtually impossible for a student to do so today, even with a tuition subsidy like I enjoyed. Unless you are a star athlete or other full scholarship recipient, the expense is simply too great at almost any four-year university. Many students cope by taking out student loans, which burden them for a long time and sometimes throughout their working career.

Paying back those loans is not easy when the value of a college degree has been downgraded like it has today, as evidenced by the fact that more than a third of our workforce can produce one. Yet, around 40% of them are working in jobs that don’t require a college degree.

At the same time, it’s become harder and harder for Americans to find competent plumbers, electricians and HVAC technicians, whose pay scales are on the rise even as college graduates struggle to find jobs that enable them to move out of their parents’ home and still pay off their student loans. Many more people are starting to realize that skilled trades offer more dollar-for-dollar value than a college degree.