When the U.S. economy collapsed with the burst of the real estate bubble at the end of 2008, the public blamed then-President George W. Bush and Democrats swept into office with the promise they would clean up the mess the Republicans had left behind.
Here we are, nearly six years later, and the economy is still sluggish, stock markets around the globe are wildly unpredictable, and thanks to Obamacare, health insurance premium prices are set to rise in 2016.
But perhaps the worst problem of all is the one everyone knows about but no one is doing anything about: student loan debt. More than 40 million Americans are now saddled with at least one outstanding loan, as reported by CNN Money, up from 29 million in 2008. This reflects an explosion of student loan debt, which now tops $1.2 trillion, an increase of 84 percent since the “Great Recession” began.
There are a variety of reasons why this has occurred, but the primary one stems from reforms passed by President Barack Obama that moved the vast majority of the student loan industry from the private sector into the hands of government. The U.S. federal government is now the single greatest student loan lender in America, and likely the world, and it has instituted well-intentioned reforms over the past six years that have made it far easier for both students and their parents to obtain government loan money to pay for education costs.
This has led directly to increased tuition and fee costs. For example, USA Today reports, “Average tuition, fees, and room and board at a private, nonprofit, four-year college were $42,419 for 2014–2015, up from $30,664 in real dollars in 2000–01 ... according to the College Board.”
With all of the mounting student loan debt and increased enrollment rates, the question has to be asked: Is college even worth the investment?
Young people have been taught from their earliest years in the classroom that everyone ought to go to college, and high school students especially are frequently taught choosing to miss out on the “college experience” is a gigantic life mistake.
What they don’t tell students is that college does not equal success, nor does it guarantee prosperity. Many students who are not looking to attend graduate programs or professional schools, such as law school or medical school, may very well be better off than those who throw all their eggs in the college-degree basket.
The case of Alex Bruesewitz is an excellent example of how foregoing college may be the best option. Bruesewitz, an 18-year-old from the Ripon, Wisconsin area, is the youngest real estate agent in the state. He recently made his first big sale, selling a property on Green Lake for $550,000.
Photo Credit: Ramin Talaie/Getty Images
Not bad for someone with no plans of getting that college degree the world keeps telling him he needs.
“Sadly, I’m not ‘smart’ enough to go to college,” said Bruesewitz sarcastically. “Throughout my school career, I was a very mediocre student. I think college is very overrated.”
Bruesewitz isn’t the only one who feels that way. High school students across the nation are realizing they may be better off entering the work world right away instead of spending four years in college.
Contrary to popular belief, there are many well-paying professions that do not require four years of college. Plumbers, ironworkers, welders, carpenters, real estate agents, and electricians all earn well-above-average salaries, according to Payscale.com. Nurses, who often need only two years of college, also can earn very good salaries. Many restaurant and grocery store managers never go to college, and they often earn above-average salaries too.
The reason so many students choose to go to college isn’t because they have a specific goal they need to accomplish using higher education; it’s often because they don’t know what they want to do and choose to spend tens of thousands of dollars to figure it out. The worst part is, they are taught this is “normal.”
“College becomes a ‘necessity’ when high school juniors and seniors realize they haven’t been taught a single thing about the real world and all they know how to do is take tests,” said Bruesewitz.
Not only has college put many students more than $100,000 in debt, it has made it very difficult for young people to invest in cars and purchase a new home. This is a big reason why homeownership for young people has collapsed since 2005, when 43 percent of people under age 35 owned homes. Today, less than 35 percent do.
College can, of course, be a great bargain, especially when students take advantage of affordable state college programs and the growing list of online college degrees from prestigious colleges. But, in many cases, college just isn’t worth the hefty investment. Instead of investing so much money and time in a degree an individual may not need, students should strongly consider following in the footsteps of Bruesewitz, who proves hard work and passion can yield great results without a college degree.
“For young people thinking about going into business, I would tell them to find something they like, and go all in,” said Bruesewitz, who plans on running for mayor of Ripon in 2016. “If you have an idea, run with it. Create a plan, and make your dream your reality. If you’re not succeeding at first, don’t give up. Every failure makes a success that much sweeter.”
Justin Haskins (Jhaskins@heartland.org) is editor of The Heartland Institute. Robert Paquin III (Rpaquin@heartland.org) is a state government relations manager at The Heartland Institute.
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