Is the College Degree on its Way out?

5f17bd50a561b image 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1In today’s editorial, I argue that no one needs an Underwater Basket Weaving degree any more. 

If you want to be a doctor, engineer, or something else that requires a degree: sure, go to college. 

But 40% of adults have a college degree. And the vast majority of those are worthless and very expensive. 

The narrative concerning the necessity of a college degree is at a crossroads. Even though educational institutions are making a full-court press for higher enrollment rates, the trend is moving in the opposite direction.

A rising tide of high school graduates are choosing to forego the traditional collegiate path, seeking alternatives in trades and blue-collar jobs that hold more promise and immediate financial gain. Are we witnessing the beginning of a radical departure from the longstanding faith in higher education?

The fire of this crisis was already burning when government overreaction to Covid-19 only made it worse. Today, we have over 2.5 million fewer students enrolling in college than a decade ago, not only because of the undeniable shrinkage of available college-age population, but also a waning interest in degrees.

The economic landscape is changing, providing alternatives to the bachelor’s degree. After all, who wouldn’t prefer getting an immediate return on their time investment, with an average restaurant worker now making around $14 an hour, machinists making $23, and carpenters bringing in $25?

The changing perception of college education among young Americans is also an essential part of the equation. Faced with the prospect of escalating tuition costs and a mounting pile of student debt, it’s no surprise that many parents and high schoolers are reevaluating their options. Studies show that nearly 40% of college graduates question the value of their degrees, primarily because they end up in careers unrelated to their studies. Many could have skipped the tuition and fees and student load debt and instead banked four years of earnings, a prospect that is gaining traction among young adults.

How did we arrive at a place where the college degree is becoming more of a liability than an asset? The roots of this shift lie in the 1971 Supreme Court ruling “Griggs versus Duke Power” that led to the prohibition of requiring a high school diploma or taking a competency exam to get a job, under the pretext that they were discriminatory.

The fallout was predictable: employers turned to the college degree as a reliable indicator of an individual’s “competency.” This caused college enrollment to triple. Now 40% of Americans have a degree, useful or not. I remember talking to a guy working the desk at a rental car agency in Los Angeles. He said he had just graduated from college and started this job because it required a college degree. Why? Not because you need a college diploma to hand out keys.

A college degree doesn’t guarantee a prospective employee will have a satisfactory work ethic or show up to work on time either. One manager told me he recently had two candidates not even show up for their job interviews. It is expensive and difficult to hire and fire deadbeat employees, so many companies have taken to hiring candidates as contractors for a probationary six months to determine whether they will actually perform or not.

About thirty years ago, tech companies such as Microsoft realized that college graduates were not actually competent in the skills they were hiring for. So, tech companies implemented a technical / coding interview to assess candidates’ skills, problem-solving abilities, and knowledge in specific areas relevant to the job.

These exams typically involve a series of technical questions, puzzles, or coding challenges designed to evaluate a candidate’s understanding of programming languages, algorithms, data structures, and problem-solving techniques. The purpose is to gauge the candidate’s ability to think critically, analyze complex problems, and come up with efficient solutions—something you would think any college graduate could do. But these technical exams are used everywhere today because the quality of graduates has deteriorated even further in the last three decades.

Is the college degree on its way out? While it’s too early to say for sure, the current trend of high school graduates skipping college in favor of alternative careers is pointing in that direction. As we continue to grapple with the evolving landscape of higher education, we should keep an eye on these trends. The time when young Americans didn’t have to spend over five years and over $100,000 on an underwater basket weaving degree to check a box for a job might just be on the horizon.