Money Down the Drain: A College Education is an Unnecessary Expense

By Logan Wilson ’20

Today, around 20 million students are enrolled in various colleges across the United States. This accounts for 69.7% of people between the ages of 16 and 24. Incredibly, these numbers are expected to increase over the next few years. As enrollment rates continue to increase, tuition continues to be on the rise, too. In 2018-19, the average cost per year was $35,676 for private colleges and $20,077 for public ones. With this in mind, the question is raised – Is a college education really worth it?

Interestingly, there are many factors that show college to not be a requirement for what society has deemed a “successful” life. The influence of student debt, a misconception regarding the importance of college degrees, and the safer option of trade schools are all valid reasons why students should consider skipping a college education and pursuing less common pathways to success.

Since the price tag is very often too high for families to afford, it is becoming extremely common for college students to take out massive loans. Statistics from 2019 show that there are more than 44 million students who have taken out loans, and they owe a staggering $1.5 trillion in student loan debt nationwide. Around 69% of the class of 2018 used loans to pay for college, and they were left with an average debt of $29,800. 

Loan debt is an economic drag, and Natalia Abrams, the director of Student Debt Crisis, a nonprofit organization, explains how the frantic need to immediately start paying off debt forces graduates to settle for lower-paying jobs. These jobs hinder people from beginning families or getting married, casting a shadow over other plans, too – such as buying a house or donating to charity. In a nationwide study called “Buried in Debt,” overwhelming debt inhibited 85% of respondents from saving for retirement, 56% from buying a home, 42% from affording a new car, 25% from having children, and 19% from getting married. These startling statistics are a clear indicator of the hazards that can arise from accumulating thousands of dollars of debt, as well as the potentially crippling effects that come with pursuing an unaffordable degree.

As college attendance continues to grow, there is a common misconception that people need a college education to succeed in their lives and achieve the American Dream. However, some of the most successful Americans – such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Wozniak, Michael Dell, and Charles Culpepper – either didn’t go to college or didn’t earn a degree. These people are perfect examples to demonstrate why college simply is not necessary to achieve success.

On the other hand, it is very common for people to get a college education and not use it effectively. Many college graduates are employed in jobs that don’t require a college degree or that are unrelated to their field of study. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that only six of the fastest-growing jobs between 2010 and 2020 necessitate a bachelor’s degree.

Richard Vedder, a distinguished Professor of Economics at Ohio University, supports this argument by noting that, in 2012, one in three college graduates had jobs that required a high-school diploma or less. He noted that 16,000 parking lot attendants, 83,000 bartenders, 115,000 janitors, and 15% of taxi drivers had gone to college to earn a bachelor’s degree. This is further proof that college coursework is not necessary, and degrees are, frankly, a waste of money for far too many. 


A reasonable alternative to spending thousands on a college education might be to learn a trade. Currently, college graduates are entering into a sluggish labor market. A recent report from the Economic Policy Institute found that unemployment rates for college graduates are nearly double what they were in 2007. However, while some industries are offering limited job opportunities, many others are struggling to find enough workers to satisfy their needs.

According to Forbes, skilled trade workers are comprised of a disproportionately older population, creating more openings for young tradesmen to fill their shoes. So, while high-school graduates are busy applying to universities, sometimes high-paying trade jobs are left unfilled. 

Moreover, the cost of attending trade school pales in comparison to the steep rates charged for bachelor’s degrees. Attending such a school means that a student can enter the workforce sooner and with less debt, often filling a position which pay over $50,000 annually. In a quest to earn bachelor’s degrees from prestigious universities, too many high-school students are overlooking the safe alternative that a job in the trade industry provides.

It is clear that, for many, college is simply a waste of time and money. People are paying for college and pursuing majors with no real plans for life after college. They are burdening themselves with loads of student debt, ultimately setting themselves up for future struggles.

If more people reconsidered – or even thoughtfully considered – their education plans, many would begin their careers with less student debt, often earning a degree or certification that they will actually use in their profession. Far too many young people are flushing what little money they have saved down the drain when they decide to pursue unaffordable, unnecessary degrees simply because everyone around them is mindlessly doing the same thing.