Published on January 27, 2023.
By: Yanet Mengistie
In the 21st century, many aspire to become an entrepreneur, start their own business, or work on a laptop from home. At the same time, it seems everyone has become anti-college, with the notion that earning a degree is useless, a waste of time, and money. Why go to university when you can start your own business or take a six-month coding course that would only cost a fraction of a tuition?
There are many other options besides obtaining a degree given the creation of new non-traditional educational spaces, to the point where studying in traditional post secondary institutions seems unnecessary. Some of the strongest arguments derive from negative student experiences within the educational system.
Attendance at post-secondary
The idea that degrees are losing their significance partially stems from data collected in recent years. The National Student Clearinghouse is a non-profit organization that reports statistics on educational institutions. In 2020, statistics revealed that post-secondary enrollment rates fell by two point five per cent in the United States.
This is not a one-time statistic. Forbes revealed that within the past nine years, post-secondary education enrollment has declined, revealing that in 2011 19,610,826 students were enrolled. In 2020, this number was 17,458,306.
The Education Data Initiative also conducted similar research concerning the topic and found that in the last decade post-secondary enrollment in the United States has declined by nine per cent. In the next decade, these numbers can continue to decrease, as many of the reasons that are deterring students from opting out of higher education are not being addressed.
Why are people not going?
One of the main reasons people are not enrolling in school is due to the high tuition prices. The cost of obtaining an education has increased dramatically, making higher learning unbelievably pricey.
College Board, a non-profit organization, published a report in 2017 named Trends in College Pricing. They found that in the United States, the 1987-1988 tuition fees were $3,190 annually on average. In the 2017-2018 term this number was $9,970. Comparatively this means that the cost of a four-year program in 1988 would have cost around $12,000 in total, whereas in 2018 this has increased up to $36,000.
In Canada, tuition fees have risen as well. Statistics Canada reports that in 1999-2000 undergraduate tuition fees were on average $3,379, in 2022 the average is $6,693. The average family would struggle to afford tuition costs given that for Canadians and singles without dependents, the median market income was around $57,600 in 2019.
Furthermore, the cost of living since 2020 has been extremely high and real estate prices have followed this pattern. These prices are causing many to reconsider the traditional route of pursuing post-secondary education as the economy has left them with limited financial room to manage multiple costs at once.
Why degrees are useful for minorities
Many romanticize the perks of not having a degree, however the job market and economy rely on education to achieve financial success and growth. As of recently, the job market puts a lot of emphasis on achieving a bachelor’s degree in a certain field and is a requirement in some of the fastest growing job sectors.
Georgetown University’s Centre for Job and the Workforce published a report called The Online College Labor Market: Where the Jobs Are. In the report, researchers revealed that online job postings that require a bachelor’s degree are overrepresented. They also found that job postings for white-collar occupations with a degree as a requirement make up a large number of online job postings.
This tells audiences that these jobs are in demand. The report documented that these jobs exist in fields such as “managerial and professional office, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), sales and office support, healthcare professional and technical, and social science occupations.”
Other than sales and office support, a bachelor’s degree is required for most job postings a majority of the time. In these cases, a bachelor’s degree provides an opportunity for a graduate to break into these in-demand job sectors.
To say one does not need a degree would be unrealistic and would cause Black people and people of colour (POC) to miss out on sectors of in demand work that offer stability and wealth. Since many Black people and POC do not come from families that offer huge financial support, trust funds or other assets, that would afford them the luxury of being financially taken care of their whole lives.
A report by The Brookings Institution, a non-profit organization looks into public policy, called Pathways to high-quality jobs for young adults. It compares people who are from disadvantaged origins and those without. The report found that one of the key factors that lead to people with disadvantaged backgrounds achieving higher quality jobs was education, specifically education in the form of bachelor’s or graduate degrees.
Given that many Black people and POC families come to Canada with little income, the median income for newly admitted immigrants was $31,900 in 2018. Thus, education is a critical tool to propel their financial circumstances. Post-secondary education offers many Black people and POC immigrant families a pathway to success.
Entrepreneurship or any other alternative to pursuing post-secondary education should not be stigmatized. However, it is important to not get swept up in anti-college conversations. Stating that degrees are unnecessary belittles the importance they carry in today’s job market.
Additionally, it takes away from evidence shown by those such as The Brookings Institution, who affirm that education can be an equalizer for those who are raised in underprivileged and lower income households. Giving groups such as Black people, POC, and those suffering from poverty a chance to enter successful occupations.
Instead of labelling post-secondary education as useless, there needs to be a shift in this discussion. We need to raise awareness on ways to make post-secondary affordable, provide more job opportunities relative to one’s degree, provide high school graduates with more time to figure out their pathway, and teach students additional job-ready skills as opposed to too much theory.
We also need to address mental health issues to prevent the horror stories from students feeling burned out, which contributes to pushing prospects away from post-secondary. We need to focus on what is causing students to fail out of school rather than label educational institutions as useless when it is the predominant way to achieve social mobility among minorities.
Yanet Mengistie is an experienced Writer, Researcher and Creative who is ready to hit the ground running with Black Voice. Driven by having previously worked as a Content Writer for a company that sought to uplift small businesses in Northern Canada, she takes joy in using her writing to uplift small or marginalized voices. As a Writer with Black Voice, her goal is to combine this passion for small businesses with this publication's mission of empowering Black individuals across Canada. Yanet is committed to ending the marginalization of Black Canadian perspectives and opinions. She hopes to bring Black excellence, concerns or hot topics to the forefront through her work with Black Voice.