College Enrollment Is Going Down—What Should HS Students Do?

In 2013, the number of recent high-school grads enrolling in college programs was just under 66%—even lower than 68.6% at the start of the recession in 2008. Why? And is this good or bad for students? Should more sign up for college? How can they know?

In terms of why, several plausible explanations could be behind the drop in college enrollment.

  1. high-schoolerStudents believe college is just too expensive.
  2. Students think that the value of a college education has declined.
  3. College enrollment naturally increases during economic downtowns; fewer jobs are available and students pursue more education to increase their odds in a competitive job market.
  4. Enrollment naturally decreases when the economy flourishes and more jobs become available.
  5. All the above (most likely).

While colleges scramble to find the solution to declining enrollment, college-age students face the issue on the opposite side. Say you’ve graduated high school and “Pomp and Circumstance” is still fresh in your ears. Should you attend college or not? Your time and money are on the line and your decision will change your life, so how do you decide?

The real issue to consider here is one of cost/benefit. A college education is not automatically good or bad, it’s an investment, the key to which is knowing what you want to do with your life and whether you need a degree (or several) to get there.

There’s also the question of high cost/low benefit…and low cost/high benefit. For example, a sociology degree from a prestigious university is high cost/low benefit, fairly likely to encumber you with debt while giving you a low-demand skill that could make job-hunting gnarly. A tech degree from your local community college, however, is low cost/high benefit, both economical and equipping you with a hot job skill.

Let’s boil it down: Don’t reject college out of hand, but don’t think of it as an automatic ticket into the job market either. Be strategic. Do your research. Don’t make knee-jerk decisions about college or careers based on impressions and generalizations. Before tossing the idea of college or signing up for the first psych degree that comes your way, get to know a few things:

  • Yourself
  • What you want to do
  • The prospects for this particular career
  • How much education you’ll need
  • How much the education will cost

The more students do their homework, the more college enrollment will balance out on its own.

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