For some time now high school graduates and parents alike have been contemplating the necessity of obtaining a four year college degree. With many changes occurring in the overall landscape of secondary education, including the student loan industry, many students are choosing to learn a skill instead of going to college. For those who decide to take the path of a college degree they are faced with the decision of a traditional four-year institution or career and community colleges. Both seem to have their positives and negatives. The largest of the concerns seems to be the cost of education and graduation success rate for many students. The rising cost of education, increasingly strict repayment guidelines, and lower graduation rates have some students reconsidering attending college.
It's nothing new that the price of a college education is not cheap. However, the rate at which tuition has been steadily climbing over the last two decades has become somewhat of an issue of concern. Of course, tuition is not the only expense for a college student, there is room and board, gas, food and all kinds of other expenses such as supplies and text books. To put the rising cost of tuition in perspective, between 1982 and 2005 college tuition rose four times faster than the rate of inflation(Clemmit).Due to this spike in the cost of education many parents can no longer afford to fund their children's education, leaving many students on their own to take on thousands of dollars in student loans. As a result of the large increase in student loans, student loan debt surpassed credit card debt in 2010 for the first time in history. When looking at the total cost, some students are reconsidering the traditional four year college route.
Those hit the hardest from the rise in tuition rates have been the middle and low-income classes. The largest reason for this is that the amount of federally funded grants has not risen alongside the cost of tuition(Cooper). This makes it a much harder decision for lower income families to make, being that they will have to foot most of the bill with no help. Secondly, as part of an initiative to see college graduation rates raise to where they were twenty years ago, many states have adopted a merit-based aid program instead of the traditional need-based aid(Clemmit). Some see this as a big problem for inner-city and low-income households. As a whole, students in those areas traditionally don't receive high grades. Therefore, it's increasingly difficult to receive federal funding because of lower grades, and they are also unable to pay for college because of their socio-economic status.
For those that are fortunate enough to have college funded by their parents, or for those that decide to take on the challenges of obtaining student loan debt, the next task is choosing the right degree and school to attend. The choice between attending a two or four year college or even vocational school can be the difference between the student thriving in college or failing. For those looking to learn a specific skill or career, community college may be the way to go. Although on a national level career colleges tend to have a higher default rate on student loans, about 44% of career college students default on loans without finishing their program(Mantel).However, most local community or career colleges offer hundreds of specific, individualized programs that can keep students motivated and on track by teaching them something they're already interested in. A large amount of these colleges offer on-line programs that can be done from the ease of your own home. If attending in person is an option many of these colleges offer programs designed to give students much more of a hands-on learning experience rather than just book knowledge. Career colleges also play a very large part in the American work-force. Of all the jobs in the United States, 75% of them require training beyond high school but less than a bachelor's degree(Katel). That's a perfect example of the benefits of a community college.
For those that are leaning towards a traditional four year institution, the next step is to decide what course of study to take. Many students feel that a four year degree is the fast track to a high-paying, in-demand job after graduation(Price). That is simply not always the case. One very important thing to consider when choosing a career path is that all degrees are not the same. Many have found out the hard way that a four year liberal arts degree, although a great asset, may not provide the opportunities that a specialized degree can bring. It's for this reason, along with tuition costs that have enrollment at career colleges at an all-time high(Billitteri).
Nevertheless, there are many students who will forego college to learn a skill or trade in the local workplace. Many people are pleasantly surprised to find that not all secure, good paying jobs come from a degree, and that not all knowledge comes from college. Although students who obtain a degree of any kind still have the best job prospects, the overall structure of society does not call for everyone to attend college(Billitteri). It's for this reason that many people enter the workforce with very little or no experience, and with a good attitude and work ethic can work their way up to very important jobs that leave them financially secure. Aditionally, these workers also have no student loan debt in which to pay for. This can make the fact that there may be an income disparity between the two groups a little easier to accept for some. Some college graduates who have entered a field that may not offer the income opportunities once thought, may also be strapped with mountains of debt and questioning their decision to attend college. Aditionaly, if a student has their heart set on an out of state school or university, for the first year of school the tuition will be at an out-of-state rate. This can be up to three and a half times more than the normal tuition rate for an in-state student.
A college degree(of any kind) still offers recipeints the widest array of opportunities and financial security available. On a national level, people with a college degree tend to earn 63% more annually than those with no college education(Katel). Also, not only does a degree bring in more money, it also is a sign of job security. In 2008 when the financial crisis was in full swing and unemployment in the U.S. rose above 10%, people who held a college degree only had an unemployment rate of 4.2%(Price). That translates to five workers fighting for every one job available without a degree. On the other hand, workers with a degree only had to compete with about 2 other workers per job available.
In cocnclusion, the decision to attend college of any kind is one that should be carefully thought out. For some, the traditional four year college degree is the way to go. For others, the fear of insurmountable debt and the possibility of less than desireable job prospects is too much for them to justify. For those that decide to skip the college path altogether there can also be a very rewarding future as well. At the end of the day it really comes down to what is going to make you the happiest, albeit, what makes you the happiest may not be a career that can afford you the income you would like. There will more than likely have to be a compromise made somewhere along the line when choosing what to do with the rest of your life. For some, it's a college education, for others it's not. However, being educated about the choice to be educated, seems to be the most important factor.