The concept that “everyone should go to college” is finally being questioned, which I think is long overdue. For a long time, going to college has been seen as the ticket to the middle class and upward mobility. This theme has been baked into the minds of parents and has been driven by public policy and education for the last 50 years.
When I got out of college in 1964, it was true that college graduates were unique enough to be able to command good jobs in a variety of industries; it did not seem to matter what your degree was. But, alas, things have changed, and the economy is very different from the 1960s. In the new economy, dominated by low pay service jobs, a college degree is often not needed, or leads to low starting wages.
A recent study of college graduates in Oregon shows that about 50% of the degrees were in arts, humanities, behavior, and social science, with an average salary from $35,000 to $40,000 per year.
The “college is the answer” mantra seems to have backfired. The problem is that most of these graduates had to go into debt to graduate, which will burden them for years to come. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York estimated in 2011 that the average student loan debt was $23,300, and 10% owe more than $54,000, while 3% owe more than $100,000.
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The concept of “everyone should go to college” is finally being questioned, which I think is long overdue. We currently lack the education and training systems to teach technical skills as an alternative to traditional four-year degrees and to help more people get the family wage jobs produced in the new economy.