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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

More young people are skipping college: Is that a crisis?

A good student at a good high school, Grayson Hart "believed college was the only route to a good job, stability and a happy life," until remote learning made him a do-it-yourselfer, reports Collin Binkley for AP. He turned down all his college offers -- he was thinking of a musical theater major -- to run a youth theater program in Jackson, Tennessee. “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?”

More young people are looking for apprenticeships that let them "earn while you learn."

Increasingly the "Covid kids" are skipping college, writes Binkley. They less faith in the value of a college degree and more fear of taking on student debt. And the job market is hot.

"What first looked like a pandemic blip has turned into a crisis," he writes. At least, it's a crisis for not-very-selective colleges. Undergraduate enrollment, which fell during the remote learning era, hasn't rebounded.

In Jackson, "just four in 10 of the county’s public high school graduates immediately went to college in 2021, down from six in 10 in 2019," writes Binkley. "Young people are taking restaurant and retail jobs that pay more than ever" or "being recruited by manufacturing companies that have aggressively raised wages to fill shortages."

Tennessee made community college free in 2014. College enrollment surged. "Now it’s at its lowest point since at least 2009," he reports College-going is down in Arkansas, Kentucky and Indiana too.

Economists worry about a growing shortage of skilled labor. Educators warn that people without college degrees earn a lot less than graduates, on average.

I wonder what percentage of college skippers would have earned degrees if they'd enrolled, and then gone on to use those degrees. The college dropout rate is very high, especially at the community college level. Of course, it's even higher for older students who are trying to earn a credential and support a family at the same time.

"Some states are seeing growing demand for apprenticeships in the trades," notes Binkley. He talked to Boone Williams, who'd been an A student thinking about a major in animal science before the pandemic. When his school closed in his junior year, Williams was turned off by virtual classes. He took farm jobs, then signed up for an apprenticeship. "Today he works for a plumbing company and takes night classes at a Nashville union."

Wages are up for entry-level jobs, writes Annie Lowrey in The Atlantic. "Last month, Target announced that it would pay new employees as much as $24 an hour and extend health benefits to anyone working at least 25 hours a week . . . McDonald’s, Dairy Queen, and Subway franchises have begun offering signing incentives. Lowe’s is giving bonuses to hourly workers."

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