It may be surprising to many that nearly 30% of 2015 high school graduates did not go to college. And the fact that only 50% of college-enrolled students graduate within six to eight years is another factoid that surprises many people. The reality that faces college graduates is far from rosy, in 2015 the unemployment rate for 20-24-year-olds that hold a Bachelor’s degree was a staggering 11% with an additional 44% considered underemployed. If you graduate in the bottom 25% of your class your job prospects will not outperform peers with a high school diploma.
With all of this negative data, coupled with the high expense of attaining a college education, it is somewhat surprising that more students don’t opt out of pursuing higher education. Community colleges continue to grow in popularity as their costs are significantly lower and the course load allows time for students to pursue part-time employment while attending classes. Many consider spending two years at the Community College level a worthwhile track as their debt load will be considerably lower, even after attending a four-year university to complete their degree. There are also many viable career tracks that can be attained with an Associate’s degree. In fact, many healthcare positions, those that are consistently hiring, require only a two-year program.
Another alternative path that is gaining popularity is joining the workforce immediately after high school graduation in order to gain experience, and savings, prior to beginning secondary education. This is often a hard-won path as the most lucrative jobs available for high school graduates are fraught with physical demands. The majority of well-paying jobs for those without a secondary education include oil field workers and utility employees, such as linesmen. While these positions do pay well, they are generally difficult to sustain as one ages.
In light of this reality, many students opt to maximize their high school years by taking college equivalence courses thereby lowering their requirements once they enter college. Attending state schools that are less expensive, or actively pursuing grants and scholarships are other ways to keep student loans at bay. Other graduates are pursuing vocational careers such as plumbing and HVAC and foregoing a college experience completely. Today’s economic realities are creating opportunities in career fields that may have been shunned a decade ago. There are more students pursuing careers that do not require a college education and allow them to begin adulthood without being saddled with an excessive amount of student loans.
If you, or your children, are approaching high school graduation, consider alternative paths to obtaining a secondary degree that will help to lessen the debt load while meeting their educational goals. It is also worthwhile to consider a career path that can be viable and rewarding but does not require a college degree. There are many options available to today’s high school graduates, and a linear college track is just one option. Consider all alternatives and proactively manage your costs in order to begin your career on the strongest footing possible.