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Can You Still Be Successful Without College?



Can You Still Be Successful Without College?

In 2017, 88% of new graduates say they considered job availability in mind before choosing their major, but 54% of them consider themselves underemployed. That poor outlook paired with surmounting student loan debt reaching a collective $1.5 trillion, new students are looking to embrace alternatives and go against traditional expectations.

When the G.I Bill was signed into law by President Roosevelt in 1944, 9 million returning veterans were given the opportunity for a quality college education. This bill covered tuition and expenses totaling over $4 billion from 1944-1949, and changed the way Americans viewed college, its cost, and reset the status quo for educational expectations.

  • 1947 total college enrollment 2.3 million
  • 2011 total college enrollment 20.4 million
  • 2016 total college enrollments 19.2 million

But after 70 years of steady growth, total college enrollment is beginning to slip as a new generation of students considers a college with a critical eye. Gen Z, faced with the reality of enormous student debt and learning from the mistakes of their parents, it seems that college becomes less of an advantage and more of an obstacle. Simply put, many young people just don’t think college is worth it anymore. Almost 80% of adults agree that it’s getting harder for young people to get started in life. For Gen Zers, it’s financial independence that’s the agreed first marker of adulthood – but financial expectations make this much easier said than done. According to young adults, the biggest challenges faced when entering adulthood are

  • Finances 37%
  • Education 25%
  • Career 20%

Today, earning an advanced degree costs eight times more than it did 70 years ago – but the rise in wages for careers demanding these degrees doesn’t quite match the tuition spike. Adjusted for inflation, a year of law school in 1948 costs just $3,338; in the 2018 school year, that same year worth of education from and the in-state public university was well over $26,000. In addition, 1947 saw an average annual salary for lawyers at $84k, while in 2017 it had only grown to $119k. With wages in careers like law and medicine less than doubling, the tuition growing exorbitantly and beyond inflation, the incentive to pursue such careers dwindles and attention moves elsewhere. Interestingly, skilled laborers without a degree are making three times more today, putting these careers far ahead in terms of outlook. Annual earnings for careers in 1947 compared to 2017 include

  • Construction work – $13k in 1947 to $45k in 2017
  • Telecommunications – $12k in 1947 to $53k in 2017
  • Doctor – $121k in 1947 to $208k in 2017

So what’s the alternative? When a college degree costs so much with no guarantee of employment, taking on loans seems like nothing more than a gamble. For students who reject the burden of loan debt but are still seeking high quality and fulfilling education, other opportunities present themselves. In fast-growing non-degree careers, the median salary has jumped from $35,000 a year to $54,999 a year, including jobs from opticians to alternative energy careers, to dental assistants.

Redefine success by taking a hard look at college. This infographic details the rising costs of college tuition, the shrinking job market, and alternative paths to fulfilling careers that don’t come with a pile of debt.

Brian Wallace is the Founder and President of NowSourcing, an industry leading infographic design agency , based in Louisville, KY and Cincinnati, OH which works with companies that range from startups to Fortune 500s. Brian also runs #LinkedInLocal events nationwide, hosts the Next Action Podcast, and has been named a Google Small Business Advisor for 2016-present and joined the SXSW Advisory Board in 2019. Follow Brian Wallace on LinkedIn as well as Twitter.