College Apathy is on the Rise

What does this mean for the future of college education?

College Apathy is on the Rise (Getty Images)

There is a growing trend of college apathy among high school students and young adults today.

According to a study by ECMC Group, a nonprofit corporation that provides financial tools and services to students, 51% of Gen Z teens are interested in pursuing a four-year college degree, down from 71% in 2020. Currently, the generation makes up 20% of the United States population. 

Gen Z and millennials market research leader YPulse reported that a lack of enthusiasm among youth and young adults has led to an 8% decline in college enrollment from 2019 to 2022.

There are a variety of factors leading to this reduction in interest in pursuing a college degree. The ECMC found that 56% of teens believe a skills-based education such as vocational training makes more sense. Another consideration is rising tuition costs that create significant financial barriers to attending college. The Education Data Initiative points out that the average cost for a student living on campus at a public four-year in-state institution is $104,108 over four years, while the cost of vocational degrees ranges from $5,000 to $15,000. 

Human resource departments and recruiters at some large tech companies are taking these factors into account by removing four-year degrees from job requirements, opening the door for employees with self-taught tech expertise.

Nellie Feed, a junior at San Francisco’s Wallenberg High School, began looking into colleges this year and decided to consider other options.  

“College is just too expensive. Why waste that money when there are similar opportunities for me with a much cheaper price?” the 17-year-old said.  

She is currently looking into alternative options to college, such as going to a vocational program to become a chef. 

We are already seeing the effects of college apathy in our education system. The NSCRC estimates that Today, fewer people are going to college than in recent years. In 2021, 15.4 million students were enrolled in an undergraduate degree program. That’s the lowest fall enrollment since 2006. Even fewer undergraduates were enrolled in spring 2023, just 14.1 million students. On the other hand, recent enrollment data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows interest in many vocational programs, including mechanic, repair, construction and culinary courses is on the rise. 

Advocates of college and university education say earning a four-year degree is a must because college graduates demonstrate to potential employers that they can think critically, complete long-term projects, problem solve, and have the capacity to learn new things. The Association of Public Land-Grant Universities finds that college graduates are 50% less likely to be unemployed than their peers who only have a high school diploma. The Association says that workers with a bachelor’s degree typically earn $36,000 or 84% more than those whose highest degree is a high school diploma.

Leah Mordehai (she/her) is from San Francisco and is a local youth journalist. 

Edited by Nykeya Woods

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