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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.'"

Go deeper

Black congressional staffers call for more diversity at Capitol Hill

Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Two Black congressional staff associations published an open letter Friday calling for more diversity, better conditions and "a stronger college-to-Congress pipeline" for staffers at Capitol Hill.

Why it matters: While Congress swore in its most racially and ethnically diverse congressional class in history this year, congressional staffs remain "overwhelmingly white," the letter says.

UNC race conscious admissions process upheld by judge

Students walk through the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Aug. 18, 2020 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Photo: Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill can continue its race conscious admissions process, a federal judge ruled on Monday.

Why it matters: The case could end up in the Supreme Court after the conservative nonprofit Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) vowed to appeal the judge's ruling that UNC didn't discriminate against against white and Asian American applicants in its policy that it said was designed to increase diversity.

SEC debunks conspiracy theories about meme stock mania

Photo: Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The SEC issued its long-awaited report on the meme stock mania, which downplayed the narrative that a "short squeeze" was the primary driver behind GameStop's historic stock moves — and shot down conspiracy theories about the event.

Why it matters: The postmortem was highly anticipated, largely because of what it could hint about what the regulator thinks should be done in wake of the saga. But the report stopped short of specific policy recommendations.