Gen Z Is Skipping College in Droves — and That's Not a Bad Thing

Getting to work right away instead of going to college means you'll be earning money instead of spending it on tuition. (Photo: ALPA PROD/Shutterstock)

Everyone who wants to go to college should be able to. But pushing young people into one life path via higher education negates what might truly be the best fit for someone. Obviously, college isn't for everyone, and that's OK. The upcoming cohort known as Generation Z (born 1995-2010) is putting that lesson into action for these reasons.

1. Working right away means money — and independence — sooner

Apprenticing, on-the-job training and shorter education tracks for specific jobs with little or no debt attached are appealing options in comparison to four expensive years of school that result in uncertain job prospects. So is getting to work right away — earning money instead of spending it.

While the trope of the millennial living at home is the butt of many a joke, it's rooted in reality, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census data. And while some kids might enjoy living with their parents, most want to start life on their own once they are adults. It's a longer, trickier road to freedom when you go to college than if you start working full-time when you're 19 or 20. Gen Z has seen how tough that can be as they've grown up watching the generation ahead of them struggle.

2. Companies are increasingly footing the bill

Three young people working in a trade
Pushing young people into one life path via higher education negates what might truly be the best fit for someone. (Photo: UfaBizPhoto/Shutterstock)

Why should the individual pay to learn almost everything they need to know on a potential job? Companies are now stepping into the role of educator to train people for the specific jobs they'll be doing — and keeping their skills relevant as jobs change, too. This includes construction and engineering companies, specialist manufacturers, and even extends to typically white-collar jobs: "Something unusual is happening: [Generation Z] students are asking corporate recruiters whether companies will help them get new skills as jobs shift," James Manyika, chairman and director of the McKinsey Global Institute, told Inc. "With Generation Z in mind, companies like AT&T; and Walmart are making job retraining a high priority."

3. Long-term job security

Over the next few decades, some jobs will be outsourced to humans who will work more cheaply in other places and even more to robots and other technologies. But many trade-industry jobs are immune to that; a person in another country can't work in construction in your city, and a robot isn't going to be diagnosing and fixing the electrical issue in your kitchen. Will some of these jobs get outsourced eventually? Maybe. But it's knowledge workers whose employment is likely to be more affected by this problem in the future.

4. Even parents' attitudes are changing

Baby boomers believed in the promise and saw going to college as a necessity. But by the time their millennial children went to college, it was far more expensive and competitive. Now those millennials and Gen-Xers, a smaller generation that was subject to a crummy economy and difficult job prospects post-college, are the parents of Gen Z. Given their own experiences, these parents are less likely to push their kids down the college path. Only 39 percent of millennials think college leads to "a good job and higher lifetime earnings," according to the Wall Street Journal.

5. You can still go to college

Just because you're not going to college now doesn't mean you can't change your mind later.
Just because you're not going to college now doesn't mean you can't change your mind later. (Photo: Jacob Lund/Shutterstock)

Working right away is hardly and all-or-nothing choice. If you've worked for a few years after high school and it isn't right for you, going to college is still an option. Plenty of programs at a variety of institutions, from community college to Ivy League universities, offer financial and other support for "mature" students. In 2018, about 7.6 million students were 25 years old and over, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

To get to a place where all jobs are recognized as valuable, we need to start at the beginning. That means congratulating young people on their choice to work, train for a specific trade, go to college or choose entrepreneurship — and leaving the idea that "college is best" in the ash heap of history.