Berkheimer: A college supply-and-demand issue
Special to The Aspen Times
I can just imagine the questions that began with grandparents during the year-end holidays. They’re eager to learn what their grandchildren — those high -school seniors and juniors — plan to do with the rest of their lives.
And, perhaps that prompts parents to ask similar questions as the new year begins.
Are they asking which college or university do their young students plan to attend?
Is that the right question?
Unfortunately, recent articles have revealed many younger folks completed expensive four-year college programs only to be disappointed. They’re disappointed with the failure of their degree to yield better benefits in return — a degree they worked so hard to earn.
How often have we heard about young folks who earned a bachelor’s degree only to choose unrelated work that they enjoy — such as a fishing and hunting guide? Or carpentry? Or as a golf or skiing instructor?
And, haven’t we learned that even though bachelor’s and graduate degrees are required for many jobs in education, seldom do the salaries justify the thousands of dollars spent to get those degrees?
One article, in citing the most serious problems faced by younger workers, observed they are fiscally fragile — often because of the huge college debt they incurred.
It begins by reporting they are the “brainiest, best-educated generation,” which has caused a supply-and-demand problem “because the supply of educated workers is much higher than the demand.”
As a result, more than one-third of people under age 25 are “either unemployed or underemployed.”
Another article asks: “Is college a scam?”
That article reports how the average annual costs of a college education has more than doubled during the last 20 years … “and it won’t be long until they are three times higher.”
In 2002, the average yearly cost ranged from nearly $4,000 at an in-state university to almost $18,000 at a private institution. But, this last year, that range was more than $11,000 at an in-state college to more than $43,000 at a private university.
Add to that an additional $12,000 to $14,000 for room and board.
But, the article noted college degrees yield much better benefits when students major in STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering, and math. Graduates in those fields can expect salaries of $60,000-plus — up to six figures.
Meanwhile, graduates in general and elementary education, the humanities, as well as liberal and fine arts are lucky to get jobs paying $45,000.
Many of those graduates are among the 42.8 million young workers with higher-education debt. The average federal student loan debt is $37,787. And, when private loan debt is added, the average tops $40,000.
Again, they are averages, indicating millions of young workers owe much more than the $40,000.
In another article, career experts identified the 12 “most useless” college majors. Those 12 are: theater arts, filmmaking, anthropology, civilization studies, philosophy, psychology, communications, English, history, interior design, marketing, and photography.
To be fair, I’ve concluded we can’t call college a scam unless colleges are shamelessly recruiting students into those “useless” majors.
I believe an associate degree from a 2-year community college should be sufficient preparation to seek jobs in nearly all of those majors.
The college-scam article adds that trade schools remain among the best alternatives. It reports “electricians and plumbers are especially in high demand” with salaries between $50,000 and $60,000 — after training costs averaging $3,000.
Another article reports the benefits of going to a trade school include a shorter time commitment, lower cost, fewer admission requirements, small class sizes, on-the-job experience, and placement assistance.
Similar benefits also apply to the more modern tech “boot camps” — many of which run for only six to nine months, and cost less than $14,000.
A Forbes report noted a tech boot camp, costing about $13,000, can yield an average salary of $67,000 — well above what many college degrees can offer.
Yes, college degrees are necessary in many fields that do pay higher salaries. The median wage for a graduate is listed at $65,000 — compared to less than $40,000 for workers with only a high-school diploma.
But, the many other choices available today can yield substantial wages without that huge four-year expense of $100,000 to $200,000 for tuition, materials, room, and board.
So, asking, “Which college or university do you plan to attend?” may not be appropriate.
And, I must disclose that I ended my business communications major about 14 credits short of a bachelor’s degree. That happened when the hometown newspaper offered me what was back then an excellent starting salary, plus scheduled raises during the next two years. And, college was a whole lot cheaper then.
Also, three decades later, I earned more income driving 18-wheelers coast-to-coast than the salaries I received as managing editor at daily newspapers in Georgia and Texas.
Darrell Berkheimer is a retired California journalist whose career spans nearly 60 years. He filled editor positions with newspapers in Pennsylvania, Utah, Georgia, Texas, and New Mexico. He also is the author of several essays books. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.