College is a terrible investment. 66% of students who attend a four year university do not graduate. Of the students that do graduate more than 40% work jobs that do not utilize their degree. 28% of graduates can’t even find a job that would use their degree.
If you were to take out a small business loan in order to start your own pizza shop having never tossed a pie in your life and it turns out your potential customers would rather eat ketchup on cardboard then your pizza. Your business goes under and even though you are now unable to pay back that initial loan, you can file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and wipe out the accrued debt. The United States backs entrepreneurial debtors to make it less risky to start a business, in order to incentivize the economic activity.
But, if you were to enroll in a university, the very institutions that claim to graduate skilled workers. Accrue the average $105,708 in debt of a 4 year-out-of-state student, only to find out that millions of other students had the idea to go become a medical assistant. Now you can’t find a job in that field so you find a job at local restaurant as a busser. You work your way up the next couple years to head chef and realize you want to own your own restaurant. But, because of a knee jerk decision you made when you were 18 years old based on the advice of a guidance counselor, who barely knew you, you now have to pay the entire $105,708 in full, which by the time you pay it off, accounting for interest and lost wages could total over $400,000 by the end. No filing for bankruptcy, and no credit to take out a small business loan after all the delinquent tuition payments. The United States allows teenagers to loan life changing amounts of money, that will take decades of work to pay off without anyway out and all with very little education about how likely or unlikely that degree will increase their ability to make money.
In 1960, only 7% of Americans graduated from a college or university. Over the next 6 decades the college graduation rate has increased to 36%, over five times the population that graduated college in 2019 compared to 1960. At first glance this seems like an overwhelmingly positive trend, signaling a continually modernizing society. But, if you were to take a step back and examine the purpose of higher education the trend seems wrongly motivated.
In the 60s, students went to college in greater numbers than before because of societal need for more engineers, business executives, teachers, and even communications experts. Students attended college in order to fill gaps in open fields of study. Higher Education was financially accessible, even to low-income students. But, colleges and university were academically stringent, A and B letter grades were reserved for outstanding achievements and most students received C’s. Students rarely partied except for on weekends, faculty taught for nearly double the class time they do today, and students even attended classes on Saturdays. Higher Education represented just that, a higher education into advanced and specialized fields of importance.
Today, students attend college because of a barrage of societal and social pressures from their peers, parents, and future employers. A cultural peer pressure has developed surrounding college and the expectation that everyone must experience the stereotypical college life of binge drinking on a Thursday night, or experimenting sexually or with drugs. Parents now identify it as the transitional period of moving their children out on their own for the first time. This idea of transition contributes to college’s image as some kind of young adult daycare, where students learn to do laundry, create routines, and develop social networks. For employers having a four year degree is just about as important as having a pulse. Even when the degree is irrelevant to the job those with college degrees are prioritized. Making the decision not to attend college less advantageous.
The trend upward in college admissions and graduations is motivated by a socially compulsory funneling of students into college. Why? Well because the standardization of the idea of a “need” for higher education has made a lot of people a lot of money. Just like the Military and Healthcare industrial complexes the name of the game is perpetuation. So long as these systems can remain necessary in the eyes of the general public they can be sustained. Taxpayers and citizens spend money on superfluous things whether that be M1 Abrams Tanks in the Middle East, or documented diplomas from Universities whose only requirement for admission is a high school degree. All while corporations, banks, and quasi-government organizations reap in billions of dollars annually.
But what’s the harm, right? No one gets hurt at school, everyone can benefit from a college degree, right? Well, remember the example of employers choosing individuals with college degrees over those without even if the degrees are for a totally different field? Some employers are starting to realize that those prerequisites lead them to hiring people with lesser experience in the workforce and therefore people who require more training and time to become proficient. In 2017, Harvard Business School reported that nearly 60% of employers admitted to rejecting applicants just because they lacked an unneeded college degree, even though the applicant was otherwise qualified. A 2014 study from Burning Glass Technologies phound that college graduates on average cost more to employ, have higher turnover rates, tend to be less engaged, and are no more productive than high-school graduates doing the same job.
A movement for change politically is coming for the higher education industrial complex. Almost every democratic presidential candidate this last election cycle had a plan for fixing the system, ranging from initiating a “free college” system to simple expansion of student debt forgiveness programs. But the attacks should be coming from both sides of the aisle. Conservatives are champions of the idea of the American Dream. But we are going to forget the American Dream soon enough if we keep allowing the kneecapping of young people, in the form of crippling debt, by universities that keep them from accessing the opportunity and social mobility available to previous generations.
But, it’s tough to sit back and entrust such a large economic impactor on the lives of over 42 million Americans and all future generations to the same politicians that have pushed and pushed and pushed for more enrollment into higher education over the last couple decades. Although the Obama administration strangled for profit universities, Obama also set the goal of world record graduation rates for the nation in 2009 and contributed to a 5.5% rise in the number of Americans 25 or older with a degree.
Under Biden, we are sure to see a much needed boost in education spending stratified across the levels of education, but we are also sure to see the continuation of this push for more graduates backed by the same corporate lobbyist that profit off the illusion of the need for college grads.
We need to realize and appreciate the alternatives to college education. Just like back in the 1960s we still have a need for smart and talented engineers, doctors, teachers and communications experts, so by no means do we need to abolish higher education.
But first we must recognize that most professions ranging from business to customer service, marketing, advertising, art, journalism, blue collar work and so on benefit greater from systems of apprenticeship, internships, and internal promotion than they do from traditional education. Employers are able to more quickly assess the proficiency of individuals and give them the training and knowledge needed to complete the job well. Think about it have you ever had a job where you haven’t had to spend the first one, two, or three weeks learning on the job? Even if it’s just learning to work alongside those around you. For young people there is no reason as a high school graduate you can not step in and be a contributing money making member of society on day one. If they are trustworthy enough to except over $100,000 in loans, why aren’t they capable enough to execute menial tasks while they shadow a professional? We have high school graduates learn by watching and helping car mechanics, then trust them to fix our cars, so why does someone have to go to school for four years to learn how to sell people Tastykakes? It’s time we phound something better than school.
At Phound, we are trying to be a part of that search. This Summer, Phound will be opening it’s doors to the high school graduates and college students of the Philadelphia, and Bucks County area interest in following their own creativity, and create wealth for themselves as part of our team. If you are interest in working with us as a intern, employee, partner, or client, please DM us on instagram @phoundcreative on Instagram.
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