By Bradley Bennett
“College is a scam! Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg all became billionaires, and they are college dropouts!” These are broad generalizations that everyone has likely heard at some point in their lives. These statements are trying to make the point that college is not necessary.
Someone can become a successful, high-functioning member of society without a college education, which is technically correct. However, the Bill Gates of the world are extreme outliers. Billionaires make up approximately .00003464% of the world population, per Forbes. College education and the average salary are not exclusive to billionaires either. According to this study by Georgetown University, the average salary of a 30-year-old American with a high school education is $33,000 a year. This number dramatically increases for college graduates (undergrad), climbing to $56,000 a year for someone of the same age.
These numbers can vary when factoring in gender, race, and field of study, but that is still a significant difference independent of those variables. Average salary is only one of a variety of reasons why college education is worth its weight in gold. Earning a bachelor’s degree is among the most significant lifetime investments a person can make that will increase potential long-term earnings, quality of life, and even physical health.
Why bring all this up, however? It is practically common knowledge that somebody should go to college. However, according to research from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, college enrollment has been declining since 2011. For the first few years, the downward trend was justified by the thinking that the economy was strong and unemployment was low. Naturally, this leads to people not “needing” a college education as much because jobs are readily available.
The problem now is that college enrollment has significantly declined since 2019. The National Student Clearinghouse’s data states that undergraduate enrollment fell 6.6% during this time and shockingly, community college enrollment fell almost double that figure, all the way to 13%. Elissa Nadworny’s article breaks this topic down in more detail. Doug Shapiro, leader of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, quoted in the article, states, “[referring to the 2019-2021 data] could be the beginning of a whole generation of students rethinking the value of college itself. I think if that were the case, this is much more serious than just a temporary pandemic-related disruption.”
Imagine the potential ramifications of an entire generation who punted on college. That would lead to fewer teachers, doctors, scientists, and other highly skilled professionals in the workforce. Anyone living in the past two and half years has somehow been affected by a shortage of something. A less skilled workforce in the future could compound this effect to terrifying levels.
Indeed, there are people out there who may think, “Well, money is not everything you know.” Moreover, that person would be right to think that. Money, after all, does not manufacture happiness all on its own. What a higher-paying job does do, however, is present opportunities that lower-paying jobs do not. According to this research paper by the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University, Americans with higher education live longer lives than those without one.
This may seem absurd, but how does having more money make a person live longer? It is pretty easy to understand once it is broken down. On average, higher-paying jobs will have better medical insurance than lower-paying jobs. When someone has better medical insurance, it means that they have better access to quality medical care, which leads to having a healthier physical body. Furthermore, it is not just physical health either. The Center on Society and Health’s research states, “Compared to people with a Bachelor’s degree, people without a high school diploma are more than four times as likely to report being nervous and six times as likely to be sad “all or most of the time.”
Going to college is not without its faults, and every member of society cannot obtain a college education. Student loans are an increasing concern (this topic is addressed in my colleague Austin Morris’s article here), and not everyone has the financial capacity to attend college. However, few things can position an American to live a long, prosperous life the way a college education can. Investing in education will lead to greater lifetime earnings, ideal job opportunities, and an overall healthier lifestyle.