NEW YORK — Skyrocketing tuition and crippling student loan debt have millions of parents and students wondering whether college is even worth it anymore as companies reconsider hiring requirements.
Major companies like Google, Tesla, and IBM have dropped the requirement for college degrees as college enrollment continues to drop.
According to a recent study from Harvard Business Review and Emsi Burning Glass, a leading labor market data company, companies are dropping the requirements for many middle-skill and even higher-skill roles. More than 51 million jobs posted between 2017 and 2020 were analyzed for the study.
This move by companies reverses the so-called “degree inflation” trend that picked up steam after the Great Recession in which many employers began adding degree requirements to job descriptions that hadn’t previously needed them — even though the actual jobs hadn’t changed.
In place of four-year-degree requirements, many companies are instead focusing on skills-based hiring to widen the talent pool.
Nationwide, enrollment at higher education institutions continues to decline, but the number of prospective student applications is surging at many colleges.
“Seventy percent of high school graduates at peak, about 2017, went straight to college. Now, we’re about down to 63%, and the decline is even sharper in many states,” said Jon Marcus, a senior editor at Hechinger Report, a nonprofit publication covering inequality and innovation in education.
From 2010 to 2020, annual enrollment at postsecondary institutions has fallen more than 14% nationally, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In real terms, that’s 4 million fewer students compared to 10 years ago.
Marcus said the greatest decline is in the Northeast and Midwest, where birth rates are flat — meaning fewer students are coming out of high school. But the biggest reason why admission numbers are declining is the soaring tuition cost.
“It’s not a secret that for decades the cost of college has been increasing and people have struggled to pay,” Marcus said. “They’ve often borrowed to pay it, which has resulted in the student loan crisis which we’ve been hearing quite a lot about.”
Today, more than 40 million Americans have college debt.
Meghan McGrody is a first-year student at Boston University and an aspiring attorney who will undergo four years of undergrad and three years of law school, costing her family into the six figures.
“I applied for financial aid. B.U. is 100% need-based, so that helped, too,” McGrody said.
Many universities are taking notice and launching programs to lure kids to college. Princeton University announced it would cover the college costs for those whose families make less than $100,000 annually.
About 83% of Princeton’s recent graduating seniors are debt-free, according to the university. They also note that 62% of its undergraduate students already receive some financial aid.
So, what’s the return on investment for everyone else paying sky-high prices? It depends on the student’s major.
We’re seeing a big decline in the number of people enrolling in majors with the lowest ROI, so humanities, history, English,” said Michael Hicks, a professor at Ball State University.
On average, college graduates make 67% more than non-college graduates. But, of course, some professions require a degree.
“This is a very vast and wide world. I mean we need someone for everything — like there needs to be someone with a college degree to be a doctor,” said Anna Tillisch, a college sophomore.
So, if you don’t want to be a doctor or lawyer, do you need a degree?
“In a knowledge economy like ours, based largely on things like tech, you need some people to continue to go to college. You don’t need everybody to go to college,” Marcus said.
As college tuition continues to rise, about 45% of incoming freshmen are expected to graduate in four years, but six years has become more common.