Jennifer Tuzzeo

Denver, CO

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  • Posted 6 Years ago
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What the American Dream could cost you

college costs blog photo.JPGAsk anyone who graduated college in the last 20 years why they went to college, and they’ll repeat the message they were always given: College = job = American Dream.

But recent college graduates are quickly experiencing one of two things:

  1. There seems to be more college graduates than there are college-level jobs available. According to one analysis of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, 35 percent of the 49 million college graduates in the workforce have jobs that require less than a college degree. For example, 33 percent of flight attendants, 16 percent of bartenders, and 13 percent of waiters or waitresses are college graduates.
  2. Those lucky enough to have a college-level job have debilitating student loans. According to The Huffington Post, 2010 graduates left college with, on average, about $25,000 in student loans. But, in the same article, they interviewed a recent Ithaca College graduate, who earned a communications degree and also acquired $120,000 in school debt. She’s now an intern making $12.50 an hour.

So, while 40 years ago, the American dream was to graduate from high school, get a good job, and retire comfortably, and 20 years ago, the American Dream was to go to college, earn a degree (or two), get a good job (or two or three), and retire comfortably, the new American Dream could be somewhere in the middle.

Middle-skill jobs, that is. Two-year degrees, occupational licenses, and certifications are becoming more appealing to recent high school graduates. Two-year degree holders, especially in high-demand occupations, can earn salaries that surpass those of college graduates. For example, according to the Center on Education and the Workforce, the lifetime earnings of computer software engineers ($3million), aircraft mechanics ($2.3 million), and electricians ($2.1 million) all exceed the lifetime earnings of writers and editors ($2.0 million) and teachers ($1.8 million).

Two-year degree holders also graduate with a lot less student debt. According to the Institute of Education Sciences, the average tuition of a four-year degree in 2009–2010 was $20, 986 compared to $8,451 for two-year degree tuition.  

With high unemployment rates and tuition costs for four-year degree holders and the opposite for two-year degree holders, what do we tell our current high school graduates about college?

For more information, read Bryan Goodwin’s article in Educational Leadership, “Don’t Overlook Middle-Skill Jobs.”

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