Wednesday, 13 September 2023

‘It’s Not Necessary’: As College Gets More And More Expensive, Gen Z Just Isn’t Going

 College enrollment in the U.S. is currently at a 16-year low as tuition grows increasingly expensive and college degrees lose value.

Colleges have become much more expensive over the past 40 years, and the benefits to prospective students’ wealth are decreasing, leading some would-be Gen Z students to avoid college altogether. Similarly, other prospective students are becoming less trustful of institutions and are disenchanted with the politics of college life. 

Roughly 18 million students were enrolled in university in the fall 2022 semester, nearly 2 million less than in the fall of 2011, according to the National Student Clearing House Research Center. From the fall of 2019 to the spring of 2023, college enrollment fell by nearly 9%, according to the 74 Million.

“So many young people today are finally waking up to the reality that unless you’re going to choose a major with very high earnings, potentially college is not a good financial decision for you,” E.J. Antoni, a public finance economist at The Heritage Foundation, told the DCNF.

Adjusted for inflation, total tuition, fees, room and board at a 4-year university in the 1980-1981 school year were $10,097, according to the NCES. The same number in the 2020-2021 school year came in at $26,903, a nearly 166% increase.

A study released in 2022 revealed that 38% of a group of high school graduates who did not attend college chose not to because they did not want to take on more debt.

“I think that the younger generations are more savvy about their options, and they look at extreme levels of student debt and the cost of going to college if they were to choose an elite college or private college, and they say, well, on the other hand, I can do something I love like code, and go right in,” Adam Kissel, visiting fellow at the Heritage Center for Education Policy, told the DCNF.

The majority of Gen Z wishes they’d been told about alternative routes to success, with 74% agreeing with the statement “I wish I’d learned more about alternatives to a traditional college education growing up,” according to a 2022 YPulse survey. Among high schoolers and middle schoolers surveyed, 84% planned to attend college in 2022, compared to almost 100% in 2019.

“In the past, you didn’t have all of these nonsensical majors that had no practical application in the job market,” Antoni told the DCNF.

Distrust in colleges and universities is also higher among Gen Z than other generations of Americans. An August 2022 poll revealed that 35% of Gen Z are distrustful of colleges, compared to 30% of Millennials, 28% of Gen Xers and 32% of Baby Boomers.

“Being an electrician, being a plumber, carpenter, a mason, you can make very good, very good living under those different professions. But instead, we told all these kids they had to go to college,” Antoni told the DCNF.

Denim Harrison, a 19-year-old security guard in Louisiana, told the DCNF that he chose not to go to college and wants to be a police officer instead.

“The new generation doesn’t want to do it because they feel like it’s not necessary,” Harrison told the DCNF. “People want you to go to school because that’s what you’ve been taught to do.”

Harrison said that while many of his friends are headed off to college, those that aren’t want to be their own boss and start their own business, or work in blue collar jobs where one can work their way up.

“[College] is what is somewhat expected of them, either just societally or by family, not because they had any specific interest to do so,” Kate Brizzolara, an admissions counselor at the University of North Carolina, Asheville, told the DCNF

Brizzolara also noted the effect of COVID-19 learning loss on high schoolers’ grades, leading many to feel disenchanted with continuing to pursue further education.

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