7 Good Reasons Generation Z Is Opting Out of College

Woman drinking coffee in front of white board.
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It’s no secret our country is obsessed with college. On the face of it, that’s a good thing: It means we want what we think is best for our kids. We want them to follow their passions, explore their potential and ultimately get jobs that match their personalities.

But college isn’t for everyone. Business consultant Ryan Jenkins believes that the members of “Generation Z” (those born after 1997) are a lot less likely to consider college a necessity. He tells Inc.com:

The relevance of higher education has been debated for years, but the emergence of Generation Z at a time when information is readily available 24/7 at the swipe of a finger makes the debate red-hot.

Education might be changing, but it’s not changing fast enough to remain relevant and desired by Generation Z.

The good news: These youths don’t necessarily need college in order to make a decent living.

It’s true that the greatest number of high-paying jobs tend to be held by those with at least a four-year degree. But according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW), 24 percent of all decently paid jobs go to people with some education but no bachelor’s degree.

In addition, 27 percent of 25- to 34-year-old workers who have just a high-school diploma have good jobs. (The CEW defines “good jobs” as ones that pay at least $35,000 a year for those ages 25 to 44, and at least $45,000 a year for workers 45 and older.)

Obviously not every Gen Zer will skip college. But those who do forgo higher ed — or even just put it off for a while — have some pretty good reasons.

College costs too much

Student loans
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Some 44 million borrowers in the U.S. owe a total of $1.5 trillion in education loans. Yes, “trillion” with a T.

In an article called “How Do Student Loans Work?,” Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson notes that “the student debt burden is literally reshaping our economy.”

“For example, fewer people are buying houses because they can’t afford both a mortgage and their student loans,” Johnson says. “I’ve heard from so many people burdened by so much debt. It’s depressing.”

The Generation Z cohort has watched older brothers and sisters struggle to reconcile adulthood and independence with the need to pay off huge educational debts. It’s no wonder they’re wary about taking on this kind of obligation.

Not all jobs require a degree

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The CEW report notes that “middle-skills” jobs are undergoing transformation. Traditional blue-collar employment is declining, while skilled and technical jobs are increasingly available in categories such as computer control programmers and operators, surveying and mapping technicians, health care technologists and technicians, and information and record clerks.

These jobs generally require some education beyond high school: a certificate or certification, apprenticeship, college courses or a two-year associate’s degree.

Think about it: becoming employable without incurring four years’ worth of debt, or maybe even two years’ worth. For a lot of young people, this path makes sense.

Check out: “High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a Two-Year Degree.”

Technical/trade schools beckon

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There is more than one route to postsecondary education. As baby boom generation tradespeople retire, jobs will open up for utility workers, carpenters, electricians, pipefitters, welders and nuclear power plant operators.

Jobs also exist in such sectors as health care, hospitality, government, education, consulting, and business and financial services.

Young people willing to train for these and other fields will find steadily increasing job opportunities, some of which pay quite well.

Community colleges: faster, more affordable

College students working together at a table.
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These institutions offer short, focused learning options in all sorts of fields. Courses of study run from a few months to up to two years.

Some programs could lead to jobs right after graduation — in areas such as phlebotomy, medical assisting, computerized accounting, aviation electronics, broadband cable, emergency medical technician, retail manager, office support specialist, purchasing and supply-chain management, and practical nursing.

Some of these services are in high demand. For example, the need for heating, air conditioning and refrigeration mechanics and installers is expected to grow by 15 percent through 2026, a much faster rate than average for other occupations. The median pay as of May 2017 was $47,080.

They’ve grown up in the gig economy

Driver holding a smartphone with Uber icon on screen
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About 4 million U.S. workers are freelancers, a number that’s expected to reach 7.7 million by 2020. While the numbers don’t say how many work freelance full-time, Generation Z has come of age viewing self-employment as a viable option.

“They’ve always been in a growing economy, and an era where the cost of starting a business is practically nil,” says Kathy Kristof, who runs a site called SideHusl.com.

Dog-walking, errand-running and other “personal services” are popular among young entrepreneurs. She saw one young woman who offered this option on Fiverr.com: “I will be your friend and give you best-friend advice.”

“And she has a whole bunch of reviews,” Kristof says.

Fun fact: A new study from Junior Achievement and Ernst & Young LLP indicates that 41 percent of teenagers think that entrepreneurship is a viable career choice.

To get an idea of the vast array of side gigs, check out: “107 Easy Ways to Make Extra Money Every Month.”

They’ll live longer than any previous generation

Teens
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According to Jenkins, “the first person to live to 150 has likely already been born.” Thus Gen Zers have a different outlook on education: “How will a four-year degree sustain me through my 100-plus-year career in a high-flux world?”

These youths will likely face “continuous learning” and retraining. Employers might provide some of that.

However, some members this generation will likely have to self-educate constantly to keep up with shifting technologies. (Fun fact: Dell Technologies posits that 85 percent of the jobs that will be available in 2030 have not yet been invented.)

Thus a one-and-done college career might seem pointless.

Their parents aren’t pushing college

Father and son
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In his article for Inc.com, Jenkins boils down how different generations view education this way:

“Baby boomers viewed education as a dream, Generation X as a differentiator, Millennials as a cultural norm, and Generation Z as for law and medical students only.”

The value of a four-year college degree won’t disappear overnight, but perceptions certainly are shifting. Generation Z’s members are anxious about the potentially ruinous cost of higher education and the chances to get a job without a four-year degree (or any degree at all). They’re considering entrepreneurship, or maybe acknowledging that education will be a lifelong enterprise.

Not every parent of a Gen Zer will agree. But the kids put forth some pretty compelling arguments — and if they do decide to seek degrees, college will be there waiting for them.

How important do you think it is for young people to pursue a college degree? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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