Right now, there is roughly $1.7 trillion in student debt in the United States.
It’s a massive number as the average cost of four-year post-secondary education has risen from $9,438 in 1980 to $23,872 in 2015, according to the Department of Education.
It has been a problem that has forced students and families to reconsider four-year colleges for years. The pandemic only made it worse.
A nationwide survey of 3,000 students was conducted by ECMC Group (a company that assists student borrowers), and showed that nearly 20% of respondents were considering a four year degree. In January 2020 71% of respondents indicated that they were considering the traditional four year path. However, just a few months later, after lockdowns and widespread layoffs, 53% of respondents stated they were still considering this option.
“Fewer and fewer students actually complete their education,” said Jeremy Wheaton, ECMC Group’s CEO. “That’s very frightening. We still believe that education is important. Whether it’s a four-year degree, a two-year degree, or a one-year certificate, there is value there for students.”
There has been a surge in Career and Technical Education Centers throughout the country. These centers offer alternatives to the four-year program.
Warren Tech is a CTE in Colorado that provides practical training in many fields.
The 1,500-student school breaks down classes so that students can study in the classrooms for half the day, before heading to campus to get hands-on experience in a specific vocation.
“Everyone wants to be here,” said Sammy Panorello, a senior at Warren Tech. “There’s no ditching class because everyone wants to be here. It’s so different from my other classes.”
Panorello is part of the fire science program as she is working to earn college credits on her way to becoming a firefighter. Through the course, she’s able to earn chemistry, physical education, and environmental science credits that will count toward her degree, whatever type she chooses to pursue.
Warren Tech estimates that students average 13,000 college credits per year, which is approximately $2 million in tuition savings.
“My first boss here essentially said we’re the best-kept secret in the district, and I truly feel that way,” said Rich Straub, a counselor at Warren Tech. “Is it financially feasible to pursue a career within a specific major? Are there jobs available [in that field]? What does it pay to work in these jobs? And if I’m accruing a significant amount of debt by attending a four-year school to earn that degree–that’s where I really want to encourage students and parents to pump the breaks and say, ‘Wait, let’s take some time to think about this.’”