Let's Start Telling Young People the Whole Truth About College
Karen L. Cates
The idea that college is appropriate—essential, even—for all Americans is a myth. We’ve been told there are no decent jobs without a college education. While unemployment among recent college grads is 8.5 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute, if you dig into the numbers you’ll find that 46 percent of them consider themselves “mal-employed.” Translation: They’re working largely in retail and entry-level hospitality, jobs that do not require their college degree.
One folktale that’s been spun from this is that you’ll never earn a living wage unless you have a college degree. This is patently untrue. Our trade professions are clamoring for quality employees to keep up with the demands of a recovering economy. “The homebuilding industry faces a chronic shortage of skilled workers,” laments Jerry Howard, chief executive of the National Association of Home Builders. In many professions, workers can earn as much or more than someone with a degree in marketing or advertising.
The mythology we’ve constructed around a college education does our young people a disservice by narrowing their options. In high school, we reflexively steer them toward continuing their education without much discussion of the financially and intellectually rewarding careers in challenging fields that require intelligent responses to complex problems, but not necessarily a college degree.