Plunging College Enrollment and What it Means for You

I grew up in a home that really valued education. All of my grandparents ended their formal education between 4th and 6th grade, with the exception of my Gram, who took night school classes in accounting. And what they lacked in formal education, they made up for with chutzpah, grit and learning as they went- they built houses by hand, repaired farm equipment, watched the stock market, were well respected in their communities and were contributing members of society- socially, monetarily and vocationally. And it was a gift that their kids were able to go on to earn college and advanced degrees because it meant that they might be spared the hard physical labor not having a degree ensured. My sisters and I were expected to go to college. It wasn’t discussed and it was not optional, it was just understood. My husband and I both really value education, and one of our main goals was to ensure that all of our kids left the nest as autodidacts (having the ability to learn something without formal education). We count it as a bonus and a blessing that all of our kids went on to earn vocational or college degrees, though each path was different and one that we prayed and wrestled through. Because, honestly, we didn’t have tens of thousands of college dollars saved for any of them, let alone all five of them. 

I say all of that as a precursor to this blog post so that you know just how much I value education! It’s been a gift in the life of my family and the focus of my vocational and private life for decades. That being said, I want to take a hard look at the current state of higher education. Because it’s time that we as parents start critically thinking about educational assumptions for our kids during the post high school years. And college might not be the best use of our kids' time or money.

Higher Education is on the Struggle Bus

Higher education is feeling the effects of societal disruption, just like every other industry and 2020 accelerated the stress on the system. What exactly does that look like?

While the pandemic first looked like a mere blip in the educational landscape, it turned into a national educational crisis, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. College enrollment dropped 8% from 2019 -2022 nationwide. In person enrollment declined even further, causing the steepest decline in college attendance on record, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Why the Decline?

Several factors contribute to the decline in college enrollment. One key factor is the changing job market. As technology advances and the demand for specialized skills increases, some young adults are opting for alternative paths like vocational training, certification programs, online courses, or immediate entry into the workforce. And again, 2020 disrupted plans for thousands of young people, many of whom simply did not return to high school or college once the crisis was over. 

What Does it Mean? Labor Shortage Concerns

Labor shortages in fields from health care to information technology are all affected by fewer college graduates. According to the U.S. Bureau of Statistics those who choose not to complete a college degree generally earn less over the course of their lifetimes- up to 75% less compared to those who earn a bachelor's degree or up to over $900,000 over the course of persons vocational life. Furthermore, those without degrees have a higher unemployment rate than those with bachelor’s degrees. Meaning that when the economy declines, those without degrees are the first to be hit and when the economy soars, those with degrees are generally the first to benefit.  

Guidance Counseling in a Complex World 

The decision of how parents should respond to their college aged kids, especially in light of changing economic and educational landscapes, is a complex and individual one. It depends on various factors, including the aspirations, interests, and circumstances of the student. Additionally, the importance of having a college degree in the future will likely continue to evolve. While a degree can open doors and provide a foundation of knowledge and skills, it may not be the sole determinant of success in the job market. Individuals will need to consider their specific career goals, the industries they are interested in, and the skills and experiences that align with their aspirations. Additionally, a willingness to adapt, learn, and acquire new skills throughout one's career will likely become increasingly important in the changing job landscape.

Consider a live online Career Exploration Class to help your young adult navigate post high school choices!

Homeschool High School Elective Curriculum - Career Exploration by 7 Sisters is a great way to help your teen figure out what they want want to do in life and earn credit at the same time.

Career Exploration

Career Exploration (formerly titled Orienteering) focuses on vocational and career exploration. Students will understand their strengths, challenges and more as they prepare to launch as adults in a complex, digital, and fast-changing world!

Troubleshooting

And that leads us to the question of what vocational training should our kids choose Some points to consider, and items to discuss with your kids as you consider post high school plans.

  • Individual Goals and Interests: It's essential to consider what the student is passionate about and what their career goals are. Some professions require a traditional college degree, while others may be attainable through trade schools, certifications, or apprenticeships.
  • Economic Considerations: The cost of a college education has been rising, and student loan debt is a concern for many. Parents should evaluate their financial situation and assess whether they can afford to send their child to college without incurring significant debt. Consider exploring scholarships, grants, and financial aid options.
  • Market Demand: Research the job market and industry trends. Some fields may have a higher demand for specific skills or certifications rather than a traditional degree. Fields like technology, healthcare, and skilled trades often have opportunities for individuals with certifications and hands-on training.
  • Transferable Skills: Encourage the development of skills that are transferable across various careers. Communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, and adaptability are examples of skills that are valuable regardless of one's chosen path.
  • Hybrid Approaches: Some students may benefit from a hybrid approach. They can start with a trade or certification program to gain practical skills and then pursue a degree later if needed.
  • Career Guidance: Seek advice from career counselors, professionals in the field, and educators. They can provide insights into the specific requirements of different careers and help tailor the educational path accordingly.
  • Personal Growth: College is not just about job prospects; it's also about personal growth, networking, and exposure to diverse perspectives. Consider these non-academic benefits when making decisions.
  • Flexibility: Encourage flexibility in educational choices. The job market is evolving, and adaptability is key. Encourage your child to continue learning and acquiring new skills throughout their career.
  • Entrepreneurship: If your child has entrepreneurial aspirations, they might consider starting a business or pursuing ventures that don't necessarily require a traditional degree.
  • Support and Communication: Maintain open and honest communication with your child. Discuss their aspirations, concerns, and options. Ultimately, the decision should be a collaborative one based on the individual's goals and circumstances.

It's important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Each student is unique, and their educational path should be tailored to their specific goals and strengths. Parents should provide guidance and support while allowing their children to explore their interests and make informed decisions about their education and career.

Read and listen to more about College:

Lisa Nehring
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