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College should not be the only path to a career

With graduation season upon us, we celebrate our seniors’ accomplishments. But as thousands of graduates will soon flood the job market and struggle to pay off astronomically high student loans, our state should promote other paths to success besides a college diploma.

High school seniors are constantly told to attend college. However, college is not the only path to success, and we actually need more people to explore alternative routes. Entering the workforce directly, joining the military and learning a trade are all excellent alternatives to attending college.

The astoundingly high rates of high school seniors who go to college creates degree inflation. The Department of Labor (DoL) notes how in 1960, only 46% of high school graduates enrolled in college; today, that number has increased to 70%. While not all college students actually graduate, and 20% drop out after their first year, the U.S. Census Bureau states that over one-third of American adults have a college degree. This will only continue to increase since more high school graduates than ever are going to college.

With so many people going to college, the once-prestigious college degree is becoming commonplace. A college diploma has become the new high school diploma. When everyone has a college degree, it will not be as valuable to employers. Instead of giving an advantage, it will be a requirement. Increasingly, we are seeing how having a college degree is a prerequisite to employment for even entry-level workers. Bank tellers, secretaries, and other entry-level positions should not have to have a college degree in order to be considered for employment.

Not everyone is cut out for college. Unlike in previous decades, universities are not being as selective as they should be. For example, the University of Maine has about an 80% admissions rate. Throughout college, I have personally been surprised by how many of my classmates have not known basic academic skills such as proper citations, paragraph structures or even proper sentence formation. This could be tied to grade inflation, which is when instructors give passing or honorable grades to a disproportionately high number of students.

These students may be better suited to pursuing other skills, such as entering the labor force or pursuing a trade. Academic skills are only one possible set of talents, and in order to maintain the prestige and employment potential of a college degree, we need the best candidates possible to actually pursue these degrees.

Additionally, the student debt crisis could easily become the next great bubble. The 2008 housing bubble arose from banks too liberally giving loans, but now we are seeing universities too liberally admitting and handing out diplomas to undeserving candidates.

CNBC identifies how currently, 44 million Americans have $1.6 trillion in student debt, over 50% of college students take on debt and student debt has more than doubled since 2010. The Washington Post identifies how around half of college students travel out of state, with rates especially high in New England. This creates greater student debt due to higher out of state tuition costs.

We also need more blue-collar workers and tradespeople. The Atlantic notes how college graduation can increase an individual’s lifetime earnings, but actually does not contribute to their community or national economy. NPR describes how, with more people attending college, there is a shocking shortage of tradespeople. The DoL also shows how the increase in high school graduates’ college attendance over the decades is correlated with declines in their labor force participation. We have enough people competing for white-collar jobs, but we need more blue-collar tradespeople. Carpenters, plumbers, electricians, truck drivers and other blue-collar workers are our economy’s backbone.

We have too many people going to college. This influx of college students diminishes the competitiveness of a college diploma, perpetuates massive student debt and severely deprives our country of quintessential tradespeople. Some individuals should pursue other opportunities like a trade, the military or some other necessary career. If not, one might need an accounting degree to apply to be a cashier.

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