Do you really need a college degree? More Americans have their doubts.

More American young people are passing up college to learn a trade - Photo by UnSplash +

Increasingly, young people are opting for a career in the trades

For all of the 21st century, conventional wisdom has dictated a life course once you graduate from high school. If you want a good job that places you in the middle class, you have to earn a four-year college degree.

But after millions of college graduates racked up staggering amounts of student loan debt, Americans are beginning to have second thoughts. 

A new Pew Research Center survey found that only 25% of adults say it’s extremely or very important to have a four-year college degree in order to get a well-paying job in today’s economy. About a third say a college degree is somewhat important, while 40% say it’s not too or not at all important.

What’s changed? Reality.

Colleges and universities may have priced themselves out of the market. Even state schools can cost $100,000 to earn a degree. Students once spent that amount because much of corporate America would not even look at their resumes if they didn’t have a degree.

Today, somewhat fewer companies firmly hold that stipulation, so that some people with a proven work ethic are getting opportunities. After decades of falling wages, young U.S. workers between the ages of 25 and 34 without a bachelor’s degree have seen their earnings increase over the past 10 years, the survey found. 

The lives of non-graduates are improving

Their overall wealth has gone up too, and fewer are living in poverty today. One reason for that is they aren’t paying interest on tens of thousands of dollars of student loans.

What’s also interesting about the Pew findings is a rising number of college graduates are who among those doubting the value of a bachelor’s degree. Only 32% of college graduates told Pew researchers that college is worth the cost even if someone has to take out loans.

At the same time, a growing number of young people coming out of high school are passing up college to learn a trade. There is a growing need for plumbers and electricians as retirements in those trades increase. And they often pay a competitive salary.

In many markets plumbers and electricians can start at a salary of $60,000 a year. If they later start their own business, they can often earn six figures. And unlike many white-collar jobs, trades aren’t jobs that are likely to be replaced by artificial intelligence.

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