The Decline of College

Abigail Elperin, Staff Writer

Does anyone even want to go to college anymore? The costs of college have skyrocketed, with Forbes reporting that “between 1980 and 2020, the average price of tuition, fees, and room and board for an undergraduate degree increased 169 percent.” That paired with the constant shrinking of college acceptance rates has made the college applications process significantly more strenuous for students today, being substantially more competitive than what their parents experienced. For example, the acceptance rate of famed Harvard University has dropped from 16 percent acceptance in 1992 to 4 percent acceptance in 2023, as reported by Also, the value of a college degree is decreasing, as higher education has become the norm in more and more of the country. In the end, people’s college experience almost always ends the same way: massive student loan debt. This leads many to believe that college may not be worth it anymore. Do people genuinely have a desire to pursue higher learning, or is the high school-tocollege pipeline simply too engrained in an affluent place like Issaquah to escape? Moreover, it may not be worthwhile to work so hard to apply to the top colleges with microscopic acceptance rates. The true motivation is more complex than it seems. 

There are many reasons why one would want to attend college: finding a diverse community of like-minded people, forging independence, and having a better chance at finding a high-paying job are just a few. However, there are an infinite number of alternative paths to success and lifelong fulfillment; many of which do not involve college. Junior Julia Nelon says, “College can help many people get a foundation of knowledge for the career they may want to pursue but it’s not necessary. I would say that other things are necessary that are not college- like real world experiences and applications you simply cannot get in a classroom.” Many jobs that form the backbone of our society do not require college. Senior Ethan Becerra says, “I will be doing a five-year electrical apprenticeship. I work best with my hands, so I get to use more of my skills, and I am set up for success because there is always such a high demand for tradespeople.” Recently, there has been a noticeable depletion of tradespeople, with The Associated General Contractors of America reporting that “70 percent of construction firms report they are having a hard time filling hourly craft positions that represent the bulk of the construction workforce.” Due to this shortage and the universally essential nature of a contractor’s work, a trade job currently has potential to be more lucrative and offers more comparable job security than the traditional college path. Despite this, many feel that college is still the only way to be successful, leading to a culture of overworking and burnout in high school. Becerra adds, “We are in this kind of echo chamber of a lot of academic, especially STEM success …there is definitely a culture of people putting excessive pressure on themselves.” The pressure to excel academically is largely put on by student’s families and communities. This is only amplified if a student is in an immigrant familywhere they may face other barriers in the way of success, or are chasing the largely idealistic “American Dream.” Freshman Joaquin Garcia says, “The American Dream trope pushes people to achieve greatness in any way that they can, and the way a lot of people try to achieve that is through getting higher paying jobs, which require college.” The United States Census says, “In 2021, among the foreign-born who arrived since 2010, 46.4 percent had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 38.2 percent of the native-born, and 32.9 percent of the foreign-born who arrived in the 1990s.” This may signify an increased accessibility to higher education and increased status of immigrants. However, there is evidence to suggest that the importance of a college degree is dwindling. Sophomore Cassidy Hoffman says, “In my experience, college is definitely seen as the norm, or at least the goal. There is starting to be change around that, though. I have seen more job postings saying they require a degree in a given field, or equivalent experience,’ signifying a shift to employers caring less about a college degree and more about actual readiness.” This begs the question: do people attend college simply to achieve some level of status? Nelon adds, “Top colleges are not any better than community colleges for the most part. Sure, saying you went to a certain college can look great on a resume or at a dinner party down the road, but it genuinely does not mean much.  

Despite the roadblocks that stand in the way of an accessible college education, or the factors that render it impractical, college remains an essential institution in American society that many young adults will continue attending for the foreseeable futureIt may never be easier to go to college. Hoffman adds, “The same thing that can be said for many sectors of American life can be said for college: it is better than it was fifty years ago, but still not the best. Financial aid is getting more widespread, but it is not standard, nor has it lost its stigma. If you really want to go to college, you can make it happen. Community colleges are often just as good as fancy universities. However, if you specifically want that fancy university experience, there is no guarantee you will get it.” No matter how the landscape of education and post-high school life changes, it is important to stay true to yourself and your skills, and everything will work out in the end.