How Over-Hyping a College Education Destroyed the Millennials

Posted on February 27, 2015

*This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

Since when has something that was good for one or a few ever been good for everyone?

A college degree is great, but is it necessary for everyone, and at what cost (literally) are we willing to pay for this social experiment? Is it $1 trillion, $2 trillion, $5 trillion?

We overhyped a college education and as a result we may have destroyed the American Dream. If we didn’t destroy the American Dream, we most definitely destroyed the lives of millions of Millennials. This is indisputable, and here’s the stats to prove it:

  • Millennials have contributed $1 trillion to the national student loan debt [Bloomberg]
  • Millennials are the most educated generation in human history, yet they have the highest share of people who are unemployed in the last 40 years [USA Today]
  • 48% of employed college graduates have jobs that do not require a four-year degree. [Forbes]

In 1999, the outstanding federal student loan debt was $90 billion. As of June 2014, it has ballooned to $1.2 trillion. This is more than a 1,000% increase in just 5 years.

The year 1999 is significant, because this is the point at which student loan debt began to soar.

Thanks to the encouragement of parents, teachers and high school guidance counselors, it is virtually expected for Millennials in the upper-middle class and higher to attend a 4-year university after high school.

This isn’t necessarily bad advice, but where the aforementioned advisors went wrong is they never bothered to ensure that the Millennials they were advising were ensuring that they were seeking out colleges and degree programs that provided them with a return on their investment.

One can almost become sick and nauseous when thinking about how many times we as a society refer to a college education as an “investment.” How can this possibly be true?

A savvy investor knows that in order for something to qualify as an investment, there must be a reasonable expectation that they will earn more money than what they put in.

Out of the 90’s and into the 2000’s, the “advisors” blindly pushed Millennials into obtaining college degrees, and student loans shot through the roof.

When you really analyze the $1.2 trillion of national student loan debt, what’s most frightening is that there’s nothing tangible that’s associated with this debt.

When you compare the student loan crisis to the mortgage crisis that triggered The Great Recession, at least the government and lenders had something tangible they could take to sell. In that instance it was property.

You can’t take and resell knowledge from the brains of college graduates or college drop-outs.

Therein lies the problem ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the next round of indentured servitude as well as the greatest economic crisis to ever hit America.

Once the student loan bubble bursts, we will be in a world of trouble.

It’d be one thing if all of this debt that was accumulated allowed students to earn wages that allowed them to pay off their student loans, but that’s not the case.

According to Whitehouse.gov, college-bound Millennials are most likely to choose college degrees in social science and the applied science fields. These are the liberal arts and psych majors that were encouraged to pursue their passion by their “advisors”, only to later be ridiculed because after graduation, they realized they couldn’t get much more than a job in social services.

So where do we go from here?

Millennials who are in the upper-ages of their generation (post college – age 30) are likely out of luck. I wish there was better news to report, but there really isn’t.

If you’ve made the mistake of obtaining a college degree in a field that doesn’t allow you to earn a reasonable living, move out of mom and dads house and pay your bills, there’s really not a whole lot that you can do, because the bad seed has already been sowed.

However, this bad news isn’t necessarily applicable to everybody. There lies a sector of the Millennial generation that has what it takes to survive, thrive and overcome adversity.

No matter what happens, there will always be those who find a way. After all, we’re Americans. It’s in our DNA to fight and win.

If you have the will to win, you can improve your odds of overcoming your battle by recognizing your skill deficiencies, gaining new skills and re-branding yourself.

Millennials have been labeled as the “Me Generation” and they’ve often been called entitled. This should come as no surprise when you consider that Millennials were encouraged to pursue their passion their whole life. This isn’t necessarily bad advice. However, it’s important to understand that passion doesn’t necessarily pay the bills. Passion is something that you pursue part-time.

When it comes to finding full-time work that pays the bills and allows you to live a life of abundance, you need to gain the necessary skills for jobs that are in-demand, even if it’s in an industry that isn’t necessarily your dream job.

Thanks to the Internet and websites like Lynda.com and Udemy.com, it’s now more possible than ever to learn new skills for jobs that are in-demand, in the comfort of your own home and without breaking the bank.

For parents of middle school and high school students who may be reading, it’s important that you recognize the unique challenges your child will face when they enter the real world. Do not over-hype a college education and make sure your child is making a savvy investment.

It’s not all gloom and doom. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we must be willing to wake up, recognize our reality and blaze new trails.

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