Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Kim Kardashian, Jay-Z. These are the names of some of the most successful people in the world, but their success isn’t the only thing they have in common. When these five all started their careers, not a single one of them had a college degree, and now they’re some of the richest and most famous people on the planet.
We now live in a time where the world is constantly telling us that it’s becoming harder and harder to be successful in our society without a college degree. I hear this often, especially from family members and older friends.
However, as I’ve gotten older and closer to the age where I have to make some big choices about my future, I’ve been exploring all my options and examining the necessity of college —not just for myself but for kids my age nationwide. There are many factors when making decisions about higher education. One of the biggest is cost. In 2020, CNBC reported that the number of students wanting to pursue a college degree is going down simply because of the cost. A survey showed the number of high school students wanting to pursue a degree dropped to 53 percent in March from 71 percent of students in July 2020. One of the main factors for this is the coronavirus pandemic’s huge impact on the economy.
The price tag of a degree is becoming less appealing for those trying to recover. When adjusted for inflation, the annual average cost of all expenses for a private nonprofit four-year college has nearly quadrupled from just $10,000 in 1970, according to CNBC. The cost of an average public four-year college has doubled from about $5,000 in the same amount of time. In a capitalist society, this is extremely devastating for many middle- and lower-class families.
Another devastating fact for middle class families is that they’re hit the hardest by student loan debt. In 2021, Minnesota-based nonprofit Scholarship America reported Americans across the country are $1.7 trillion in debt, with middle-class students owing the most because a lot of their families make too much to qualify for a lot of big student aid packages, but not enough to cover the full cost of their studies. Students from families earning between $40,000 and $59,000 a year accumulated up to 60 percent more debt than lower-class students and 280 percent more than their peers whose families earn between $100,000 and $149,000 per year, according to Scholarship America.
A big factor in deciding whether or not to pursue higher education is salary. Men with a bachelor’s degree on average earn $990,000 more in their lifetimes than those with just a high school diploma, while women with a bachelor’s earn $630,000 more in their lives than women who didn’t pursue an education after high school, according to research from the Social Security Administration.
The numbers balloon as education continues. Men with graduate degrees earn $1.5 million more in their lives than their high school graduate counterparts, while women with graduate degrees earn $1.4 million dollars more in their lives than women who are high school graduates, according to the Social Security Administration.
No factor is more important than what one wants to do with their lives. Some may be unsure, and that’s OK. Students have several options. Some may want to take a gap year and work before pursuing higher education or use the time to figure out their next step. Some may prefer trade school, and there are definitely folks out there who are dead set on college. All of these options are OK, as long as you figure out what makes you happy.
Speaking of trade school, it’s an option that often goes overlooked, but it could definitely be the right choice for many, even in a world where college is made out to look like the right path to success. In 2019, the Atlantic reported the number of students enrolled in trade school rose from 9.6 million in 1999 to 16 million in 2014. This isn’t a coincidence, as many jobs now require specialized training in technology that a bachelor’s degree wouldn’t focus a lot of time on. This has actually led to many enrolling in trade school after getting their diploma. This shows that there’s a demand in specialized training around the country, in not just technology but mechanics, electricity and construction to help with the rise of technology in our society.
Personally, I feel that higher education is necessary for my hopeful future careers as both a teacher and a lawyer, but this isn’t the case for everyone. College isn’t for everyone. A 9-to-5 job isn’t for everyone. With the rise of young people becoming successful through social media and startup companies, college doesn’t equate success.
We shouldn’t let society measure whether we are successful; we should do that on our own.
Whatever someone decides to do with their life should be the path they want to take and not the path society says they should be taking. So yes, higher education is necessary for those who feel they need to pursue it to reach the success they want. But no, a bachelor’s is not necessary for everyone to be successful and happy with life.