Logo
Sound journalism, grounded in facts and Biblical truth | Donate

No longer college bound

0:00

WORLD Radio - No longer college bound

Why are so many young men opting out of getting a secondary education?


Worawee Meepian/iStock image

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: going to college.

The numbers of people seeking a secondary degree are in steady decline. And the pandemic only accelerated that trend.

NICK EICHER, HOST: Right. Between spring 2020 and spring 2021, undergraduate enrollment dropped three and a half percent. Nearly nine times more of a drop than the prior year.

REICHARD: The biggest driver of the decline? Young men. They’re opting out of college at much higher rates than women. Why?

WORLD’s Caleb Bailey reports.

CALEB BAILEY, REPORTER: For as long as he could remember, Tony Schnotala had one dream.

SCHNOTALA: From a really young age, I wanted to be a veterinarian. That was the only option, I didn't see myself doing anything else.

During high school, Schnotala took a class called education for employment. It allowed him to shadow a vet, work in the clinic, and attend agricultural conferences. And that’s when he realized he didn’t want to be a vet after all.

So, he took a few other employment-related classes in hopes of finding a new career dream.

SCHNOTALA: But as time went on, and I got closer to like starting college, as the summer went on, and it was like, All right, we're getting ready to start. Then I kind of started leaning away. I was like, man, I think I need a break from school.

When most of his friends headed off to a university that fall, Schnotala stayed home.

SCHNOTALA: I went home fully expecting a like stern talking to extremely disappointed type deal. But it was a it was almost like shrugging it off, like, Okay, you got to you got to find find a job and you got to start paying your way.

So he did. For the last three years, Schnotala has worked at Gold Meadow Farms in Richland, Michigan. When it’s open to the public, he helps manage tractor rides, a zip line, and different mazes. He also helps maintain the grounds.

He started at the farm in high school but didn’t think of it then as anything more than a temporary job. Like many teens, he thought he had to go to college to move on to the next phase of his life.

Michael Petrilli is president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank. He says the U.S. emphasis on higher education has been especially hard on young men.

PETRILLI: We just don't have as many young men graduating with the academic skills that would allow them to succeed in college as we do young women. When you wait until the end of high school or into college, I just think it is too late.

Petrilli says the over-emphasis on getting a college degree means those who could succeed in a trade are left without any direction.

PETRILLI: And, you know, what if instead, we had taken some of those students who, you know, maybe didn't have the strongest academic skills, but had other skills that might be respected in the workplace, you know, and help them certainly starting in high school get access to high quality vocational training, that might be a better route, than this notion that, you know, let's just push everybody into an academic track.

But that’s not easy when federal spending and incentives reinforce that push toward college.

PETRILLI: I mean, it's criminal, how much money we spend on traditional college tracks. And, you know, partly, it's because of the system, we are subsidizing colleges, we are not subsidizing much career tech in the early years.

That means many students who don’t really want to go to college end up there anyway. Andrew Ross moved to Bend, Oregon after high school and enrolled in a local community college. He was studying to become an EMT.

ROSS: I was so unhappy being there. And I eventually, more and more just started losing interest in what I was learning and stopped going to classes and then eventually, you know, decided to cut my losses and not spend any more money and just not do the classes anymore.

Ross experimented with different jobs, including a moving company and car sales before someone offered him a lifeline.

ROSS: I met this guy who was like, you've realized that you don't really want to do the traditional college path, right? So why don't you start learning to trade and then go and open up your own thing. And so right now, I'm in the process of working for my contractor's license.

It’s hard work, and it isn’t glamorous.

ROSS: You know, I'm cut, my hands are covered in cuts. I still have paint on me from last week ago, it doesn't matter how hard I try and scrub it off. And you know, so there's that aspect where people don't want to do that. They don't want to get their hands dirty.

But Ross is confident his hard work will pay off. He sees plenty of room for growth as a general contractor. And he’s not starting his life with a heavy load of debt, like many college graduates do.

ROSS: It's like what everybody does, they go, and they just take out a massive loan, to possibly to go study something that they might not even use, you know.

Some education analysts see the drop in college enrollment as a problem that needs to be fixed. But Michael Petrilli says we’d be better off investing in career training for those who opt out.

PETRILLI: And, and the goal is still the same is to get skills that will allow you to get a decent paying job, right and to grow into your career and put food on the table for your future family. But that path does not have to go through a college campus.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Caleb Bailey.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

COMMENT BELOW

Please wait while we load the latest comments...

Comments

Please register, subscribe, or login to comment on this article.


BosLarJazz

I am an associate professor in the performing arts and I can tell you many students coming out of high school are not mature enough to attend college. I recommend to anyone who is not sure what they want to major in, to take a year and work. Learn the art of showing up, getting things done, and being dependable. That will make all the difference in one's success in college.

Further, my brother-in-law runs a manufacturing company and told me there is a great need for machinists, welders, and similar type jobs and their starting salaries are higher than most college graduates receive in their first jobs. There is a certain sense of job satisfaction that comes from making things that isn't found in the field of business. You can see if something is straight or not, or if the part you've just made fits and functions properly. That has deep value.

Our culture lacks a well-defined rite of passage into adulthood and college has become the default mechanism in many respects, but it is not designed for that. Better the military than in college, but we now face similar threats of "woke" indoctrination there as well.

Andi Van Kooten

I appreciate this report, but I do find it disappointing that Petrilli only points to not strong enough academic skills as the reason young men are not choosing college. I believe there may be other reasons such as a calling to other types of work that don’t require a college degree, gifts in other areas, the threat of debt that a college degree might bring, and more. These young men may have the academic skills, but they are choosing a different way on purpose, not as a last resort.

SAWGUNNERAndi Van Kooten

I recall reading once long ago how Alex Haley mastered his craft as a writer while in the Coast Guard. Print journalism or broadcasting are not fields where a degree matters all that much. The young NCOs and petty officers who toil for the AFRTS (overseas Armed Forces Radio and TV Service) get the same or perhaps even better experience than do Radio TV Film grads who got to write for their college papers.

SAWGUNNER

Everyone at least Baptists have heard of BAYLOR UNIVERSITY in scenic Waco Texas. But few have likely heard of nearby Texas State Technical Institute. TSTI recently now tagged as Texas State Technical College is a great affordable school. Most of those who graduate from there have employers lining up to sign up graduates at job fairs often before the students have even donned cap and gown.

LC2KIDSNAHUBBY

"PETRILLI: We just don't have as many young men graduating with the academic skills that would allow them to succeed in college as we do young women. When you wait until the end of high school or into college, I just think it is too late."
This doesn't make sense to me. How are the females able to get the academic skills needed to be successful, but the males are not? And why would it be too late to gain those skills later on? Is Petrilli implying that once you have left high school you can no longer learn those skills!!?? I believe there are pieces to this puzzle that are missing.

SAWGUNNERLC2KIDSNAHUBBY

In the early 80s I attended a county college in Dallas Texas. Among the enrollees were veterans. Some recent ones while others were confined to wheel chairs and had beards and pony tails which had long gone grey. Even then I noticed lots of 18 or 19 yr olds taking remedial classes. I could easily understand how a member of the armed forces would have forgotten much or got rusty on the basics, but kids coming straight from high school should have not neeeded the academic remediation. That being said, later on in the 90s I spent lots of time with a tutor getting prepped for chemistry exams despite having already earned a bachelor's

SAWGUNNER

Brings a whole new meaning to the coffee mug caption: "For this I spend 4 years in college?"

SAWGUNNER

This was the main theme of a recent (from a few weeks back) cover story in WSJ. I think there are many factors. Certainly the decreased if not negative ROI on the traditional 4 yr baccalaureate degree is a big factor though I'm convinced far less students grasp the entire ROI concept at the end of 4 years much less at the start of their undergrad degree. College today is let's face it a really big gamble. You may or may not find work. It seems odd to everyone but university admin folks that tuition for distance zoom school/online education is NOT ONE PENNY CHEAPER than it would be if you lived on campus in a dorm room.
Or you may have to relocate and young men -- at least the secular dudes severed from any supportive fellowship--are already dealing with isolation loneliness and the hollow purposelessness of life on many campuses. Moving off is scary to many young folks. The WSJ article had a young man note that his campus has groups like "Society of Women in Engineering" etc but no such similar mentoring groups for guys. Could universities themselves take a look at the gender gap and perhaps figure out why the ratio of gals to guys is so high? I think all university admin types at secular or Christian colleges should immerse themselves in two books: WILD AT HEART and the Davide Murrow classic WHY MEN HATE GOING TO CHURCH. I do believe the latter book could help explain a lot of the manly scarcity on campuses.

DBAT1091

The tagline is grossly incorrect: college and vocational education are examples of tertiary education, not secondary (grades 9-12). The German education system is known for its high-quality academic (its "Unis" are really graduate schools) as well as blue-collar vo-tech schools. My three Kinder attended the lesser known middle way or white-collar trade schools there. Do Americans really need a 4-year, 6-digit, university education in order to work in banking, insurance, paralegal, sales, public service and other sectors. The answer is a resounding NO! But vested interests continue the status quo---to the detriment of young men. I write this a National Certified Career Counselor.

SAWGUNNERDBAT1091

In 1985 I amassed enough credit hours to earn a BA in economics. I never once considered how the degree would land me any job or launch me into any particular career track. No one had ever promised or implied that; my hope at that time was to attend law school. The legal career was at last rejected and I then enlisted and trained as an Arabic linguist in the army. (The first Gulf War more or less started about the time I had graduated my tech school at an air base in San Angelo and earned paratrooper wings in Ft Benning). Anyone who wants solid training in Human Ressources or medical lab technology can get that in the military. A man I know who has a home/bathroom remodeling biz was for many years an enlistee in a USAF civil engineering squadron (essentially a USAF Seabee). Education ultimately for most though not all of us is about acquiring useful skills for day to day livelihood. The acquisition of those skills may or may not require formal collegiate level education

RCRE8109

My HVAC guy told me when he goes for annual update training, he is seeing way too few young people attending. We are going to have a sever shortage if more kids don’t get aimed toward the trades.

SAWGUNNERRCRE8109

I had a plumber come to work on a house we were renting. He told me he owned about 5 houses in Waco Texas and I realize he was quite likely destined to be a Dave Ramsey millionaire. I hope more parents of 18 and 19 yr olds examine the books available from Ramsey. No admissions official at any school is ever going to care as much about your kids education as you will and you should!

CovenantWord

High school teacher here. I strongly commend this trend toward the trades for those who have those gifts. General life education, including money management and how to read a newspaper, is, or should be, taught by eighth grade. Thereafter, separation into tracks according to gift is best for all. Invariably in my classes, I have a few students, mostly boys, but a few girls as well, who do not prosper in an academic environment, but who would flourish in training for a trade. Trying to keep such motivated drains teaching resources away from those who are gifted academically. A trade is honorable and financially secure, much in demand. The only cobbler in my town is approaching retirement, but he has given up hope in trying to replace himself. His analysis is that youngsters today don't want to work. I submit that if a number of them were introduced to working with their hands, some would take to it.

JMAN3581

Vocational training used to be part of the high school system with a special campus for the courses. Some still exist as well as community college offerings like welding, etc. Around the corner from my house is a motorsports shop that has a booming business fixing ATVs for farmers. Vo-Tec is where they get their start, but apprenticeship is still the best teacher.