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.
For years it has made families and students reconsider the traditional four-year college path, and the pandemic has only accelerated that trend.
According to a nationwide survey of 3,000 students conducted by ECMC Group, a company that helps student borrowers, the number of students considering a four-year degree dropped by nearly 20% due to the pandemic. In January 2020, 71% of respondents said they were considering the traditional four-year path, but only a few months later after lockdowns took place and layoffs became rampant, only 53% of respondents said they were considering the same option.
“Fewer and fewer students actually complete their education,” said Jeremy Wheaton, ECMC Group’s CEO. “That’s very frightening. We still believe in education. Whether it’s a four-year degree, a two-year degree, or a one-year certificate, there is value there for students."
The changing mindset has led to a rise in Career and Technical Education Centers across the country, which focus on offering students other options to the four-year path.
In Colorado, Warren Tech, a CTE located just west of Denver, has been offering practical training in courses in a variety of fields.
The school of 1,500 students breaks up classes so students can learn in classrooms for half of the day before driving to its campus to take part in hands-on experience in a particular 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.
According to Warren Tech, students, on average, earn 13,000 college credits each year, which translates to around $2 million in saved tuition.
“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 do those jobs pay? 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.’”