College isn’t for everyone, and there’s data to prove it. During the 2011-12 academic year, the number of students enrolled in American colleges and universities dropped by 1.6 percent, while the number of degrees awarded increased by 5.1 percent, according to a new study. As colleges attract fewer marginal students who wouldn’t have succeeded in attaining a degree, completion stats go up. This is largely good news. Students who fail to complete their degrees take on the costs of college with none of the benefits of a degree.
This is an important lesson we’re just beginning to learn, as a four-year college degree is still a prerequesite for nearly all decent jobs. This is a colossal waste: that degree can be exorbitantly expensive, and it requires young adults to spend their prime working years confined to classrooms, often studying subjects that do little to prepare them for their future careers. For many of them, real-world work experience would be a better use of that time.
Naturally, there are some jobs for which a traditional education is important (medical research and professorships are two obvious examples), but for other careers apprenticeships or vocational training would provide a better path to the workforce. There is still value in the traditional four-year degree, but it’s a model that suits some people better than others. It should not be considered mandatory.
[College quad image courtesy of Shutterstock]