Too many people are going to college

Consider vocational schooling


(Collegian file photo)

By Greg Fournier, Collegian Columnist

People are graduating late, accumulating too much debt and earning less than their non-college educated counterparts.

When I was in elementary, middle and high school, the only path offered to me after I graduated was to go to college. As someone who is deeply interested in the world around me and always immersed in learning, I welcomed this social pressure and, as may be apparent, accepted the proposition, ending up at the University of Massachusetts. However, this is not the case for everyone.

It is hard to count how many times I have been in class and witnessed students who would clearly rather be anywhere but in that lecture hall or classroom, and yet they show up regardless. I can’t help but feel a pang of pity for them; these are people with whom I may have been friends in high school, and so presumably they heard all of the same encouragement that I did to live in a crowded space for four years and then tackle the world with the flimsy piece of paper they would receive at graduation. It seems they have been forced to live a lie: go to college to succeed in life.

The amount of people enrolled in college is certainly a problem that isn’t getting any smaller: there are already 19.9 million students in colleges across the United States this year, and increased encouragement from places like the New York Times will only complicate things further. Instead, people should only go to college if they truly want to, and pursue opportunities like vocational education in order to better prepare themselves for the real world.

One of the main drawbacks of getting a college degree is the astronomical price of completing the process. According to CNBC, “44 million Americans collectively hold more than $1.4 trillion in student loan debt,” an average of around $32,000 per person. This means that student loans account for the second-highest category of debt — behind mortgages, but ahead of credit card debt. This inflated debt is further amplified by the time spent in school, as only 54.8 percent of students actually graduate within six years.

It would be one thing if this debt paid for itself. However, many graduates have a difficult time trying to find employment after school to pay back their debts, and in 2017, “the delinquency rate — the percentage of loans that are 90 days or longer past due — hit nine percent,” which was the highest of any household debt that year. This is clearly a problem — if so many people are going to college and are then unable to pay back their loans, then what is a degree good for?

Conversely, there is a good case to be made that high school graduates should go to vocational school. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, a higher percentage of students with an occupational degree became employed than those with an academic degree, as of 2009.  Additionally, since trade schools aren’t as academically rigorous as colleges, many people who dread the hours of reading and homework may find it much more suitable to their own interests to get vocational training. As if this wasn’t enough to convince you of the validity of trade schools, there are around 30 million jobs that pay an average of $55,000 a year — without requiring a bachelor’s degree.

Another telling bit of information about colleges is their perceived utility. A paltry 26 percent of college students believe that their school fully prepared them for the professional world. The main goal of a university should be to teach their students how the real world operates. Instead, it seems like schools spend their time spelunking in the caves of abstract ideas without any lifeline connected to the concrete of the outside world.

Don’t get me wrong; college is a fantastic opportunity for many people. I, for one, am enjoying my time here at UMass immensely. Along with the richness of academic pursuits, the social life at college is not to be looked over, along with the opportunities that college grants outside of the classroom.  I love college and will always value this time as an integral part of my life.  However, everyone is different. If you don’t feel like college is the right fit for you, do something more valuable with your time. Don’t waste four years and thousands of dollars in debt to fulfill a lackluster academic program that might not even be that useful.

Do what feels right; it doesn’t have to involve college.

Greg Fournier is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]