HIGHER ED DIGEST – America is Making it Easier for Men to Skip College

The Wall Street Journal profiles this week the increasing number of American men foregoing or dropping out of college for gig work and manufacturing positions. The numbers:

This education gap, which holds at both two- and four-year colleges, has been slowly widening for 40 years. The divergence increases at graduation: After six years of college, 65% of women in the U.S. who started a four-year university in 2012 received diplomas by 2018 compared with 59% of men during the same period, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

No reversal is in sight. Women increased their lead over men in college applications for the 2021-22 school year—3,805,978 to 2,815,810—by nearly a percentage point compared with the previous academic year, according to Common Application, a nonprofit that transmits applications to more than 900 schools. Women make up 49% of the college-age population in the U.S., according to the Census Bureau.

Anectdotes within the story delved into the psychological pathways of avoiding college. Feelings of academic inadequacy, lack of interest, and being detached from the return on investment of a college degree are just a few of the personal stories suggesting that higher education is viewed as either unattainable or unnecessary in youthful views of long-term prosperity.

But something else may be accompanying the psyche shift in college-aged men. A recent piece in Forbes suggests that skipping college may not be a precursor to low-wage earnings. Hiring may be down but available jobs in a number of industries are at record highs and providing bonuses to pull prospects out of a talent pool that is pickier about employment opportunities than it has been in recent years.

Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce has been writing for years about the number of good-paying jobs that do not require a college degree. A 2017 report outlined states, mostly in the Bible and Sun Belts, which added a number of blue-collar and skill service jobs which only required a high school diploma.

Add these numbers to a recent study of the gig economy impact, which predicts a $347 billion value and also factors heavily into the sociological debate about the flexibility associated with avoiding college, and you have an ideal climate for people to be down on higher education.

To explore the sociological element a bit further, could it be that women are more driven for higher education as an effort to equalize disparities in hiring, earning potential and promotion? Where men have always had the luxury of entering or withdrawing from the educational and job markets at will, women are just beginning to leverage traditional and gig economies to accommodate family, entrepreneurship, and social gains.

A new life is beginning to take shape in year two of the global pandemic, and the value of work is dramatically shifting the view of how much and how meaningful higher education will play a role in personal success.


Headlines

Biden’s education proposals beginning to take shape in Congress [Inside Higher Ed]

What higher ed can learn from hospitals [Wall Street Journal]

To reimagine the student experience, think like a tech company [Forbes]

Even in red states, colleges gravitate towards requiring vaccines and masks [US News and World Report]


Read & React

“We know that investing in free skills training for our teams can have a huge impact for hundreds of thousands of families across the country. This new investment builds on years of experience supporting employees in growing their careers, including some unique initiatives like building more than 110 on-site classrooms for our employees in Amazon fulfillment centers across 37 states.”

 Dave Clark, CEO of Worldwide Consumer at Amazon on the company’s new plan to offer free tuition for employees

React – Amazon is destined to make trillions more in productivity by locking in skilled college graduates for a fraction of the cost of outsourcing skill-building and developing leadership qualities in the college environment. And don’t forget about the marketing value of attracting employees with promises of free education, a benefit that a majority of Amazon workers aren’t likely to pursue anyway.

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“Student borrowing and debt varies a great deal across states and colleges because of variations in state and institutional policies, as well as state investment in public colleges. For bachelor’s degree graduates in the Class of 2019, statewide average debt levels ranged from $17,950 (Utah) to $39,400 (New Hampshire), compared to the national average of $28,950. States can also vary greatly in how likely students graduate with student debt, with the majority of graduates leaving with student debt in 38 states.”

Oliver Schak, research director for The Institute for College Access and Success on America’s $1.73 trillion student debt crisis

React – It would seem that 38 states are a pretty sizable fraction of the 50 states comprising the United States, so it’s kind of a throwaway stat to seemingly level blame at particular states for their politics, economies, city growth, etc. But it could force states to look at individual colleges where student debt is becoming a low-mark in a high-stakes game of post-graduate quality of life, which has been a focus of the Biden Administration’s comments on college metric measuring