According to the Wall Street Journal, a generation of American men are giving up on college.
And while that deadline may exaggerate reality a bit, the trend is unmistakable. Men are falling behind women in both college admissions and in degree completion.
The Journal reports these trends with a somber outlook. Men are “falling behind” they say. There’s a lot to unpack in this trend but the question has to be asked: does “giving up” on college equate to “falling behind” in all cases?
No doubt, in some cases, giving up on college will set someone behind. For example, if a student dreams of being a doctor but abandons college, their chances of success are extremely low.
But what about students with a gift for carpentry? Or a business idea burning in their mind? Does skipping college actually spell disaster for them?
The Opportunity Cost of College
Let’s think about this question in terms of opportunity cost.
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The idea of opportunity cost is simple. If you take Opportunity A, you must reckon with the cost of losing Opportunity B. Imagine you have $5 in your pocket. If you buy a $5 sandwich, you also bear the opportunity cost of not being able to buy the $5 booklet.
In the context of the college discussion, there’s opportunity cost on both sides.
Students who skip college risk falling behind as the majority of their peers get a college degree and gain access to higher paying jobs. But the inverse is also true. If someone elects to go to college, they must accept the opportunity cost of not being able to pursue other opportunities during their time in school.
So, if a student wants to pursue carpentry should they go to college? Maybe. There may be scenarios where that makes sense and helps prepare the student for a great career in carpentry. But college may also be a waste of time for that student, distracting them from practical work experience that will help them grow in their carpentry skills.
There’s Not Just One Way
If college success is the one way to future impact and success, then giving up on college would be detrimental.
But let’s not assume that college is the only way.
Alternatives to college abound. These alternatives each have their pros and cons, just like college. But the reality is that many people have found a way to their desired outcomes without attending college. Entrepreneurs build businesses while their peers are in class. Tradespeople establish lucrative careers through apprenticeships and practical on-the-job training. Plenty of other examples exist.
I’ve written before about the danger of assumed answers. When we accept what everyone else is doing as the right way without a second’s hesitation we set ourselves up for lost opportunities.
College is a big assumed answer in our culture. We expect high school grads to attend college. And while, in many cases, pursuing higher education makes sense, it isn’t for everyone.
The men interviewed by the Wall Street Journal didn’t see much value in college. With astronomical debt levels and an out-of-touchness with reality dominating many campuses, can you really blame them?
Critically Questioning Your Next Steps
The value of traditional higher education wanes and more students are jumping the ship. Fewer students are boarding the ship in the first place.
Before we act like the sky is falling and these students are flushing their future away, let’s challenge our assumed answers with some critical questions.
Does college make sense for my student? Can they get better results by pursuing an alternative? What’s the next step in their journey?
We may find that “giving up” on college could lead to “getting ahead”, not “falling behind”.
Navigate, an eight-week online course from Unbound, can help your student figure out what’s next for them and give them a framework for decision-making that they can use for the rest of their life. Enroll today.
Jace Bower is the Marketing Coordinator for Unbound. An Unbound alumnus, he has experienced firsthand the powerful advantages of doing college differently and participating in an intentional community. Jace graduated with his bachelor’s degree in History in 2016 and has worked in restaurant management and marketing since then. He also served on the Unbound Student Cabinet in 2019.
The author of two books and a semi-regular blogger, Jace can often be found doing something with words. When he’s not, chances are he’s reading about theology, listening to music, or playing pool or tennis with his wife Shannon in their Virginia home.