The woes plaguing our government-run K-12 schools now show themselves on the college level. Classes, many of which are useless and often come with a far-left slant, have led to sinking confidence in our formerly esteemed universities.
A recent Wall Street Journal-NORC poll reveals that most Americans don’t feel a college degree is worth the cost. The survey finds that 56% of Americans think earning a four-year degree is not worth the time and money involved, compared with just 42% who retain faith in the institution.
Most importantly, the strongest skepticism is found in men and women between ages 18 and 34 and people with college degrees. Their opinions have soured the most, which portends a major shift for higher education in the coming years.
College enrollment had risen for decades, peaking at 70.1% in 2009, but then it began to ebb. Between 2019 and 2022, there was an 8% decline, according to the Associated Press. “The slide in the college-going rate since 2018 is the steepest on record, especially for men.”
Also, a YPulse survey asserts that 55% of current Gen Z undergraduate students and 38% of Gen Z graduate students found their classes not relevant to their lives — in part “because college doesn’t teach practical skills…”
Similarly, a Gallup poll released in July finds that “Americans’ confidence in higher education has fallen to 36%, sharply lower than in two prior surveys in 2015 (57%) and 2018 (48%).
In addition to their classes not being relevant to their lives, colleges are failing because of their blatant political bias. If you are right of center or apolitical, going to college can be a very disturbing experience. The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) reports that more than half of students (56%) “expressed worry about damaging their reputation because of someone misunderstanding what they have said or done, and just over a quarter of students (26%) reported that they feel pressure to avoid discussing controversial topics in their classes. Twenty percent reported that they often self-censor.”
Interestingly, FIRE finds that Harvard, America’s most prestigious university, is ranked dead last as the country’s most hostile school for free speech, having received a score of 0.000, though the real figure is “more than six standard deviations below the average.” This should not come as a surprise, however. As legal scholar Jonathan Turley reports, a Harvard Crimson study finds “most departments had effectively purged their ranks of conservatives. Only 1.46% of the faculty now self-identifies as ‘conservative,’ while 82.46% of faculty surveyed identify as ‘liberal’ or ‘very liberal.’ This, in a country that has split down the middle between Republicans and Democrats.”
And for the privilege of being indoctrinated at Harvard, a student’s family and the taxpayers have to shell out about $334,000 for a four-year stay.
But for young people who don’t want to incur life-long debt for being brainwashed and not learning any useful skills, there is help. In the past year, The Wall Street Journal notes that governors in Colorado, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah and Virginia have “taken executive action to filter prospective employees by skills, not degrees. This reform opens paths to opportunity and helps states fill jobs.”
Also, companies such as Delta Air Lines and IBM have reduced educational requirements for certain positions, and shifted hiring to focus more on skills and experience. Walmart, the country’s largest private employer, said it values skills and knowledge gained through work experience, and that “75% of its U.S. salaried store management started their careers in hourly jobs.”
Skilled trade programs and apprenticeship programs are booming. The number of apprentices registered with the Department of Labor has surpassed 593,000, which represents a 65% increase from the level a decade ago. The Wall Street Journal details an example of a successful program. Students of the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) program – a mix of new high-school grads and older factory workers well into their careers – typically spend two days a week in class and three days on the factory floor, earning a part-time salary. “They learn to maintain and repair machinery; traditional subjects such as English, math and philosophy; and soft skills such as work ethic and teamwork. After earning an associate degree, most work full time for the factories that sponsored them.”
Also, high school graduates in California can take advantage of an apprenticeship program. CalMatters reports that registered apprenticeships “provide options for Californians to get paid while learning a trade — like carpentry or plumbing — from skilled industry professionals, and usually get a job afterward. California’s Department of Industrial Relations has traditionally offered apprenticeship programs in the building trades, such as bricklaying and carpentry, but also trains for careers in healthcare, technology, transportation and firefighting, among others.”
In St. Louis, Next Prep, offered in two high schools, is “a pilot program that helps teens start early in figuring out what they might want to do after graduation. The class starts in ninth grade and begins with exploring each student’s strengths and talents. Later, the class dives into learning about careers by visiting employers and talking directly with professionals. Hands-on and personal, the course is meant to lay out the stepping stones from high school to a meaningful career.”
Not only are many students now getting an earlier start on a career, but they are not being saddled with the massive debt that frequently comes with a college education, which keeps getting more and more costly. Since 1992, tuition has more than doubled at four-year private colleges, even after adjusting for inflation.
In fact, Americans owed $1.75 trillion in student debt in 2022, according to StudentLoanHero. A typical graduate in the class of 2021 left campus with an average of $29,100 in student debt. All told, 45.3 million Americans hold outstanding student loans as of fiscal year 2022.
All the while, the feds ironically keep trying to pass this debt along to American taxpayers, many of whom decided that a college career was not worth the cost.
When I went to college in the late 1960s, it was the thing to do. Just about everyone in my middle-class community did the same. But today, things are different. Unless a young person is planning to pursue a profession that demands a college degree, it’s time to take a different path. They and the nation’s workforce will be much better off for it.
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.