As CEO of a national coding boot camp, my customers come from all walks of life. Regardless of their age or ethnicity, one theme remains constant: traditional higher education wasn’t feasible or didn’t train them properly for a meaningful career.
For decades, going to a four-year university has been interwoven into the American Dream. Along with home ownership and a white picket fence, enrolling your children in a reputable university has become a benchmark for success. The recent admissions scandals highlight this mindset.
For too many parents and students, going to the “best” university is their ultimate goal, but, in my opinion, career readiness should be the goal. The current system is failing us in this regard. Here are three reasons why:
A Degree Is Not The Only Path To A Successful Career
Don’t get me wrong, going to a university with a specific job in mind is a great way to start your career. The problem is, many students enroll and hope to figure out their goals along the way.
The result of this approach can be devastating: thousands of dollars in debt and students with irrelevant or no degrees at all, because they didn’t know why they were going in the first place. This stems from students hearing throughout their life that a four-year degree is key to a successful career, but that’s not necessarily true.
It’s not just me saying this. Assistant Secretary of Education Scott Stump recently discussed the growing skills gap in the workforce. One of his core messages was that the goal of higher education should be career readiness, not going to college just to go.
Stump presented a variety of solutions including apprenticeships, vocational education, career and technical education, as well as tweaks to existing K-12 education. We always ask young children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Why does this question stop once they’re in middle school? Rather than cramming these life-altering decisions into the last year or two of high school, we need to broaden our scope and provide career readiness education much earlier.
By creating more effective pipelines that start in middle school, we can guide students to paths that may be more effective for their goals.
Rising Costs And Impact On The Economy
Student loan and education-related debt affect more than 44 million people in the United States. Around one in four people have student loans, and the total owed is $1.5 trillion, which makes education debt the second largest category after consumer mortgages.
The picture only gets darker when you look closely. Consider these statistics:
• Nearly 42% of students who enrolled in college in 2012 didn’t graduate with a degree within six years.
• 66% of student loan defaults are for less than $10,000 and 35% are for less than $5,000. For federal student loans, there’s a cap of $12,500/year for the first two years of college. Seeing that two-thirds of defaults are for less than $10,000, it’s likely that a majority of them are college dropouts.
• Monthly student loan payments have increased from $227 in 2005 to $393 in 2016 and graduates owe $20,000 more than they did just 13 years ago.
For many, the dream of going to college has become a nightmare –crippling debt, no degree and no way to pay back their burgeoning debt. Even if students do graduate and get a job in their field, they’re strapped with a heavy financial burden before they even get their first paycheck. This means millions of Americans are spending a good chunk of their income on student loan repayment rather than on products, services and other purchases that keep our economy churning.
This is all assuming students continue to repay their loans. From 2003 to 2011, the student loan default rate doubled, and according to research, almost 40% of borrowers are expected to fall behind by 2023. That’s an astonishing number, and a terrifying one with the debt-fueled recession still fresh in many minds.
So, what can we do? It’s time to revamp the student loan program that was created nearly 50 years ago. We’re in desperate need of initiatives such as increased tax deductions for tuition or restructuring retirement plans so employees can repay student loans while employers match an equivalent percentage to the employee’s 401(k) plans. We also need to rework loan forgiveness programs, which are outdated and do little to help students who borrowed more than they’ll ever be able to repay.
The pace of technological change paired with the rising cost of tuition is making higher education a less effective option for high school graduates and career changers alike. In fact, according to a 2018 report by the Association of American Colleges & Universities, only 33% of executives and 39% of hiring managers think recent graduates are well prepared to apply knowledge and skills to real-world settings. Meanwhile, according to a 2017 Strada-Gallup survey, only 34% of current students “believe they will graduate with the skills and knowledge to be successful in the job market.”
With these two stats in mind, it’s easy to see why many think college isn’t worth the expense. Fortunately, preparation for a meaningful career is available from a growing number of alternative programs. These are less expensive and skills-focused programs like apprenticeships, boot camps, and other vocational programs that provide pathways to meaningful and lucrative jobs.
The even better news is that employers are hiring the graduates of these programs. Many companies — from startups to marquee employers, such as Apple, Google, IBM and others — no longer require four-year degrees when hiring.
Fortunately, these issues are starting to be discussed by policymakers. But the dialogue must continue beyond debate stages and press conferences. As differing viewpoints are explored, we’ll find more effective ways to train our workforce and broaden the view of education beyond just a step toward a college diploma.