Just a decade ago, 86% of Americans said that college was a good investment. Now, according to the New York Times, just 45% of “Generation Z”—less than half—feel that way. They say that a high school diploma is all you need to “ensure financial security.” Not surprisingly, the number of people in college has dropped significantly over the last few years, from more than 18 million to 15.5 million.
Yet in many ways a college education has never been more important: the same article says that people with a college degree are likely to earn 65% more in their lifetime than people without.
What’s going on?
Attending college used to be a small risk. Now it’s a big one.
Since 1992, the average cost of college has more than doubled, even after adjusting for inflation. Going to college today can mean taking on serious debt – the kind of debt that can cripple someone’s financial future, even after they’re making more money. But that’s not the worst case scenario: about 40 percent of college students don’t graduate. Those students get hit with student loan debt but don’t get the benefit of higher wages. Many of them struggle under that debt for the rest of their lives.
The Times quotes researcher Douglas Webber, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Board, as saying that this makes college less like an investment and more like a casino: “It’s a gamble that can still sometimes produce a big windfall, but it can also bring financial disaster.”
Many students look at the higher education system and think that the odds are not in their favor – and they’re right.
Colleges Have Gotten More Expensive, And Much Riskier
According to Webber’s research, college is much more likely to be a net positive for students who are already wealthy or who come from wealthy families. They have no problem absorbing sky-high tuitions and often have networks in place to maximize the return on their education investment.
But for everyone else, college can be a much bigger gamble.
If you’re not already wealthy and successful, Webber told the New York Times, then it’s important to stack the college odds in your favor. That means:
- Have free or low tuition
- Graduation in under six years
- Major in a business or STEM field
Do anything else, Webber said, and the odds of having a more prosperous life after college go down significantly.
In other words, Generation Z is making a rational calculation. If they don’t go to the right college, they’re much more likely to make their lives worse, not better. Especially if they don’t graduate.
The problem is: where are the right colleges?
An Online Community College With No Risks, And No Penalties
Students should have to play roulette with their future. That’s why, even before this research came out, Calbright was designed to support Californians. Calbright takes the risk out of college by:
- Making classes free to all Californians. No Calbright student will ever need to go into debt to get an education.
- Making classes career focused: Calbright only offers programs that connect to in-demand industries in California. Before it launches a program, Calbright does market research, interviews hiring managers, and works closely with companies to make sure that our graduates will have the skills they need to succeed. Each Calbright program offers a specific career pathway designed to qualify students for good paying jobs that companies need filled in California.
- Making classes quick: Every Calbright program can be completed in under a year, or often much faster, meaning that students don’t have to spend extra time waiting to get on their career path.
- Making classes flexible: Students can study on their own time, and design their own schedule, so that their education fits with their lives. There’s also no penalty for taking extra time: if students don’t get something right the first time, or the fifth time, there’s no penalty, and they can keep going.
Taking the risk out of college makes higher education—and career pathways—more accessible, not just to Generation Z but to adult students of all ages