The effects of the COVID-related government shutdowns three years ago continue to reverberate. A new report from the Associated Press indicates that many American teens have become disillusioned with college and have opted to skip it in favor of going to trade school or working a job that does not require an undergraduate degree.
Between 2019 and 2022, college enrollment in the U.S. fell 8%, and the decline in college enrollment since 2018 has been the steepest on record, the AP claimed. Though enrollment increased slightly from 2021 to 2022 after most schools returned to in-person classes, the numbers have begun to alarm some lawmakers, college administrators, and researchers.
"It’s quite a dangerous proposition for the strength of our national economy," said Zack Mabel, a researcher at Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.
Mabel and others fear that skipping out on a college degree now will cost young people in the long run. The Center on Education and the Workforce at GU claimed that people without a college degree earn 75% less over their lifetime than their counterparts with a degree.
However, some students claimed they no longer saw the value in going to college, even those who had planned to go to college when they were younger.
Shortly after his high school classes went remote during the shutdown, Boone Williams, who went to high school near Nashville, Tennessee, opted to work at a nearby farm rather than attend virtual classes.
"I was focusing on making money rather than going to school," he admitted.
After he graduated with his high school diploma, he began training as a plumbing apprentice, earning modest wages during the day while he trained with a Nashville union at night. As a result, Williams, now 20, believes that he will be "way more set" than those who delayed their earnings by going to college for four years.
Daniel Moody, 19, who went to high school in Memphis, expressed similar confidence. Moody was recruited to work as a plumber at a new Ford plant in the area set to produce electric trucks and batteries, the AP said.
"If I would have gone to college after school, I would be dead broke," said Moody, who currently makes $24 an hour. "The type of money we’re making out here, you’re not going to be making that while you’re trying to go to college."
Plumbing trainees aren't the only ones who have skipped out on college in order to pursue their dreams. Grayson Hart, who had often thought of becoming an actor as a kid, opted to become a local youth theater director after high school, even though he was accepted at several colleges.
"There were a lot of us with the pandemic, we kind of had a do-it-yourself kind of attitude of like, ‘Oh — I can figure this out,’" Hart said. "Why do I want to put in all the money to get a piece of paper that really isn’t going to help with what I’m doing right now?"
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