Sep 1, 2021 - Economy & Business

Students skip college

Illustration of a graduation mortarboard with a "skip" symbol on it

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As more and more employers nix college degrees as a hiring requirement, students are choosing cheaper, faster alternatives to college like coding boot camps.

Why it matters: The cost of college keeps climbing, and federal student loan debt sits at a whopping $1.6 trillion. Students are debating whether college is worth it — especially when it may no longer be necessary to get a high-paying job.

What's happening: College enrollment was down around 5% this spring compared with the spring of 2020, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. That's nearly 730,000 fewer students.

  • The pandemic is contributing to the drop as students choose to delay college either because they can't afford it or because they don't want to attend remote classes. But universities were hurting before the pandemic and will keep struggling after it, says Ryan Craig, managing director of Achieve Partners, a venture capital firm focused on the future of higher education.
  • "The underlying crises of affordability, completion and employability continue unabated," he says.
  • So for many students, training programs or boot camps that can teach technical skills in a matter of months can be a smarter bet than a traditional college or university.

At the same time, a number of large employers — including Google, Bank of America, EY, Apple, IBM and Penguin Random House — no longer require college degrees.

  • Training programs are especially effective when getting jobs in software, IT and health care, Craig says. And interest in these programs has been surging during the pandemic.
  • "A lot of companies are realizing that you don't need a more traditional college education to be a good software engineer," says Kate Lillemoen, who dropped out of college and enrolled in a coding boot camp with Tech Elevator. "It's changing very quickly." She now has a software job.

But, but, but: There are still millions of jobs that do require college degrees, and even for the jobs that don't, there is still a hiring bias that favors degree-holders.

  • On top of that, there are not nearly enough training programs to prepare America's workforce for the jobs of the future, says James Rhyu, CEO of Stride Inc., an education company.

The bottom line: "We need a cultural shift," Rhyu says. "We have generations and generations of parents that are just conditioned that their kid should go to college. But our country's mantra should be, 'No college required.'"

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