Times Standard (Eureka)
Jaded with education, more Americans choose to skip college
JACKSON, TENN. >> When he looked to the future, Grayson Hart always saw a college degree. He was a good student at a good high school. He wanted to be an actor, or maybe a teacher. Growing up, he believed college was the only route to a good job, stability and a happy life.
The pandemic changed his mind.
A year after high school, Hart is directing a youth theater program in Jackson, Tennessee. He got into every college he applied to but turned them all down. Cost was a big factor, but a year of remote learning gave him the time and confidence to forge his own path.
“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,’” he 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?”
Hart is among hundreds of thousands of young people who came of age during the pandemic but didn’t go to college. Many have turned to hourly jobs or careers that don’t require a degree, while others have been deterred by the prospect of student debt.
What first looked like a pandemic blip has turned into a crisis. Nationwide, undergraduate college enrollment dropped 8% from 2019 to 2022, with declines even after returning to in-person classes, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse.
Economists say the impact could be dire. At worst, it could signal a new generation with little faith in the value of a college degree. At minimum, it appears those who passed on college during the pandemic are opting out for good.
Fewer college graduates could worsen existing labor shortages. And for those who forgo college, it usually means significantly lower lifetime earnings, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.
In dozens of interviews with The Associated Press, educators, researchers and students described a generation jaded by education institutions. Largely on their own amid remote learning, many took parttime jobs. Some felt they weren’t learning anything, and the idea of further education held little appeal.