Once upon a time, only the academic and cultural elite went on to higher education — the rest of the pack simply went out and got jobs. I won’t argue whether things were better back then, but it’s clear that something big changed.
- In 1967, about 25% of all 18 to 24 year-olds were actively attending college.
- By 2012, that percentage grew to 41%.
Perhaps more tellingly, the vast majority of young people nowadays attend at least some sort of college:
- 68.4% of 2014 high school graduates enrolled this past fall.
- With the national high school graduation rate sitting at 81%, that means somewhere around 55% of all 18 to 19 year-old Americans are attending college.
This mass push to higher education has had huge ramifications on the job market. Increasingly, companies are requiring — or at least highly favoring — college degrees for jobs that traditionally didn’t need them (for example, most police forces now require a four-year criminal justice degree). What’s more, due to a shrinking pool of middle-class jobs, those with college degrees are competing for gigs that were normally reserved for those who weren’t college educated.
Thirty years ago, a high school diploma was all a kid needed to get most any decent entry level position. Nowadays, all that gets you is a McJob.
Of course, there are some exceptions to this trend. If a job seeker possesses highly specialized skills like computer programming, then the world is her oyster, regardless of her educational background. Trade schools, too, are a viable alternative to college, and just knowing how to fix things can lead to great opportunities. These, as noted, are exceptions, however. Most kids can’t code and have no idea how to fix a leaky sink.
So when almost everyone attends college, how much is a college degree worth? Is it simply the 2015 equivalent of a high school diploma in 1960? Is a bachelor’s degree the new bare minimum needed to get any sort of decent job?
The question then becomes, is college the new high school?