College: Not the Be All, End All We’re Led to Believe


EspañolThe average starting salary for the class of 2013 was $45,259 a year, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. While such earnings are certainly enough to get by, a graduating member of the class of 2013 also owed an average of US$35,200 in student loans. Meanwhile, salary growth is only at 2.4 percent and barely keeping up with annual inflation of 2.1 percent. With these deflating facts in mind, young people need to start looking at themselves in the mirror and asking if college is what’s truly right for them.

College not the only option.
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Parents have been preaching to their children for decades that college is the key to success. However, this truism is more nuanced in our new global economic order that rewards entrepreneurship and people who take risks. This new age of entrepreneurship has inspired many young people to become business owners. Some millennials are being offered billions for their businesses, such as 23-year-old Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel or Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, both of whom were college dropouts. Another terrifying fact to keep in mind is that half of college graduates end up working in jobs that don’t even require a college degree, wasting years and thousands of dollars in debt for nothing. There are better alternatives.

Organizations like Praxis, an alternative education program to a college degree that teaches young people entrepreneurial skills, has seen massive demand from young people and business partners alike. Praxis connects young, motivated, entrepreneurial millennials with businesses looking for young talent — not necessarily with a degree — for a 10-month apprenticeship. It should come as no surprise that this model works. Employers cite experience as being a far more valuable and important resume selling point than a degree, even from an elite school.

Not everyone is meant to be an entrepreneur. But those less inclined need not be doomed to college and crippling debt. There are many careers that don’t require a college degree but still earn attractive salaries. Claims appraisers, examiners, and investigators, for example, don’t require a degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the three occupations’ mean annual income is $59,850, and the top 10 percent can earn up to $89,810. These are not rare or unique jobs that only a handful of individuals without a college degree can get. Power plant operators earn a mean income of $67,230, while shift supervisors earn an average of $85,785 and up to $103,399 a year. There are dozens of examples of jobs that don’t require a four-year degree to earn more than $58,000 per year or more.

Debt can take years and even decades to pay off. Work experience only grows more lucrative and valuable with time. If a young person decides to go into the workforce immediately, instead of college, and is smart about investing his money, he can take advantage of several extra years of compound interest. Learning how to invest money and actually having money to invest at 20, instead of 30, can be a difference of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Meaning, even in the long run, not going to college can be the smarter decision.

The choice that millennials face is a tough one. On one hand, they can take the advice of their parents and be just another young person with a piece of paper in his hands, a hope for a job, and a stressful amount of debt. On the other, they can go against the social expectation of going to college and take those four or more years and instead actually earn money while gaining years of real job experience. A third option is to take a risk and become an entrepreneur or take advantage of alternative education programs like Praxis.

Parents of millennials need to understand that the modern economy is not what it used to be. Going to college promises little in today’s job market. If you want to standout, do as Robert Frost once penned and take the road less traveled. Because the main road is full of debt, stress, and empty promises.

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