Rise of 'College is a Scam' Narrative Reflects Changing Attitudes Towards Higher Education

Rise of 'College is a Scam' Narrative Reflects Changing Attitudes Towards Higher Education
Cover Image Source: Photo by Gül Işık | Getty Images

According to a study by Harvard Business Review the percentage of U.S. adults ages 18 to 29 who view college education as "very important" declined from 74% to 41% in just six years. People are increasingly turning away from traditional college degrees in favor of alternative upskilling methods, with the "college is a scam" idea gaining momentum.

Cover Image Source: Polina Tankilevitch | Pexels
Image Source: Photo by Polina Tankilevitch | Pexels

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“The Achilles’ heel of what I think is overall a very successful higher ed system is we have very, very bad completion rates," said Ben Wildavsky, author of "The Career Arts: Making the Most of College, Credentials, and Connections."

"Forty million Americans have some college and no degree, and that ends up with the worst of both worlds, which is debt and no degree … a lot of people have not had a good experience," he added.

The trend of major companies such as Apple, Tesla, IBM, Delta Airlines, and Hilton no longer mandating a college degree for job interviews is a significant factor driving the shift away from traditional higher education. These companies recognize that abilities, skills, and mindsets are cultivated through experiences rather than solely through formal degrees.


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Amidst soaring tuition fees, which currently average $36,436 per student per year for a college degree in the United States, students have turned to loans to finance their education. However, students are increasingly hesitant to pursue college if it means accumulating significant debt.

"Some of these loans aren't even that large, but they're crippling to an individual, and they're keeping them from coming back," Courtney Brown, vice president of impact and planning at the Lumina Foundation, a private foundation that focuses on education beyond high school, said via Money. 

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The widespread availability of the Internet has led many to believe that formal enrollment in educational institutions is no longer necessary for personal growth, giving rise to the term "college is a scam," which gained traction online last year.

“I definitely think when we talk about "college as a scam" and that narrative, we need to disaggregate what we mean by college. A lot of people think that going to college means getting a degree. In a lot of cases, it doesn't have to be that way," said Jyotishi, of New America.

Pexels | RF._.studio
Image Source: Pexels | Photo by RF._.studio

However, a closer look at the statistics presents a different perspective, highlighting the benefits of completing a college education. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), college graduates in America earn 68% more per week than individuals with only a high school diploma. Additionally, college graduates are also half as likely to experience unemployment. The data further reveals that workers aged 25 with a college degree earn an average weekly income of $1,432, significantly higher than the $853 earned by those with a high school diploma.


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