On the surface, Haegan Altizer is a poster child for going to college.
For a senior at the prestigious Decatur High School, who had good grades and went to advanced classes, you would think college is a no-brainer. Especially if 90 percent of his classmates plan to go to college, and both of his parents work in education.
But Altizer’s attitude about college is surprising: he is putting it on the back burner.
“A few decades ago, college was necessary for the middle class to get better jobs and make more money,” he said in an interview with GPB. “But with the economic downturn, college becoming more expensive, and many college graduates not having jobs, it is not the guarantee that it used to be.”
about reasons to skip college. He also organized a College Alternatives Fair in his school.
He currently works at a Decatur bicycle shop and plans to stay there for now.
Altizer appears to be right on the money with some of his points. The cost of college education in Georgia has skyrocketed in recent years. Since 2004, the average tuition and fees in state colleges and universities grew by 129 percent. At the same time, the median family income rose only by about 17 percent.
On the other hand, the unemployment rate for 2013 college graduates nationwide is 10.9 percent, according to last month’s report by the U.S. Labor Department.
There are still more unemployed college grads than people without college degrees of the same age. And an average U.S. graduate who borrowed money for college has more than $29,000 in loans to pay back.
On top of that, about 42 percent of college graduates who have jobs work in professions that do not even require a college degree, according to McKinsey consultancy group.
A Matter of Degrees: Is College Really Worth It?
So if college is getting more expensive, income is not keeping up, and there are no guarantees of a better job, what’s the point of going to college?
Some studies suggest that despite the bleak picture above, there is still a good reason to give higher education a shot.
First, people with college education are far more likely to have jobs in the long run. According to the U.S. Labor Department, unemployment among Americans older than 25 is far lower is they have college degrees.
This is the breakdown of unemployment rates depending on education:
With college degrees: 3.4%
Some college/associate degrees: 6.1%
High school degrees: 6.3%
Without high school degrees: 9.6%
Second, college graduates not only receive a higher salary than those with only a high school diploma, but the difference is increasing.
A Pew Research Center study shows that today’s college-educated worker on the average earns 62 percent more than someone with high school education: $17,500 more per year.
In 1965, people with a college education made 24% more than those with only a high school diploma.
Some experts also said that college is not only about jobs that are available now, but also about jobs that will be available in the future.
“By 2020, 60 percent of jobs in Georgia will require some post-secondary training,” said Claire Suggs, Senior Education Policy Analyst at Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, in an interview on GPB’s On The Story
. “It may not be a full college degree, but that’s where the jobs are and that’s where income benefits are.”
In some fields, colleges are already lagging behind the market. The Economist
reported that there are 4 million job vacancies in the U.S. because employers cannot find qualified candidates. Home Depot has opened new technology centers in California and Texas because it could not find enough qualified software experts in Georgia.
“At the end of the day, we don’t have the talent pool in Georgia,” Eric Schelling, Home Depot’s director of talent acquisition said at a recent career conference organized by Governor Deal.
The Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported that Duluth-based NCR is struggling to find software developers. The German carmaker Porsche, who is building a new North American headquarters near the Atlanta airport, is feeling the shortage of automotive technicians with IT skills, as well as office professionals.
Haegan Altizer says college isn't the only way to receive job-related skills.
However, Haegan Altizer believes that college is still not a must. He told GPB that there are more than 300 apprenticeship programs in Georgia that can provide a good living, and those programs don’t require a 4-year commitment like college. Altizer said he doesn’t dismiss education, but he thinks college is not the only way to get job-related skills.
“Education gets you through the front door, but information gets you through the back door, where the real money is,” said Carlsbad Collins, the author of “How To Be Successful With Or Without A College Degree”.
Collins found himself unemployed and was briefly homeless, because he couldn’t find a job with his undergraduate degree in psychology and master’s degree in education. He now counsels court-mandated patients who struggle with substance abuse and anger management.
Collins said he usually tells his clients that there are well-paid jobs that require only a license or certificate, but they are not advertised because people who have those jobs don’t want competition. Sometimes, he said it’s only about the right idea.
“I paid $50 for the barcode on my book,” he told On The Story
. “I tell my clients, ‘who made that barcode?’ It’s probably someone with a laptop on a beach, who is emailing those barcodes to millions of authors and making a fortune off that.”
But if the question about going to college boils down to the making right choice, how do you make it?
Research firm PayScale offers a hint. It looked at college as a return on investment. The firm checked tuition and other costs in 900 schools across the country, accounted for financial aid for students, and asked graduates how much money they were making after college. Based on those numbers, PayScale calculated how much they earned annually 20 years after graduation.
Here is how some Georgia universities fared:
To see more Georgia schools, click here