Thinking of Skipping College? Here are 6 Stats to Change Your Mind.

By James Link on January 10, 2017

So you're thinking about not going to college. It's understandable. More and more people are opting out of college because they think they can do better on their own. That they can build a rewarding and profitable career through non-traditional means. It worked for guys like Steve Jobs and Richard Branson, so it will surely work for them.

But there is one, massive problem with this line of thinking: the statistics don't support it.

Most of the evidence in favor of skipping college is anecdotal. Stories from a few entrepreneurs who beat the system through hard work and about 10,000 lucky breaks. But it's this information that is so misleading for so many people. They look at a few outlier situations and assume that anyone can do it that way.

Derek Thompson wrote in The Atlantic:

Take out that globe...and give it a spin. I challenge you to land on a region where education gains aren't translating to productivity and income gains. The highest-income countries have the highest rates of enrollment in secondary school and the smallest share of informal employment that is vulnerable to an economic downturn. There is a cost to not educating young people. The evidence is literally all around us.

To quote "Cool Hand Luke": "What we have here, is a failure to communicate."

So in the spirit of communication, we want to clear up some of the misinformation. Here are 6 statistics that should change your mind about going to college.

These stats are drawn from the 2014 Pew Research about the cost of not going to college.

Stat #1: 72% of Millennials Ages 25-32 Say Their Degree Has Already Paid Off

Three $10 bills

If anything, you would expect Millennials to be the ones saying that college isn't necessary. After all, they are the dreamers who have been told from a young age that they are special and can do anything they want to. They've been nurtured on stories of people who have fought the system and conquered. Of individualists who did things their way, without any regard for the stuffy norms of society.

Katy Perry summed up the Millennial attitude when she belted, "Baby you're a firework!"

But it turns out that even fireworks need to go to college.

Almost 3 out of 4 Millennials who have gotten a college degree say that their degree has already paid off, and another 17% believe it will pay off in the near future. Despite the general dismissiveness toward college, it seems that it's valuable after all.

Stat #2: College Grads Age 25-32 Earn $17,000 More Each Year

It's really hard to argue with this one. Yes, there are the rare few who manage to make millions without a degree, but they are the rare few indeed. The simple fact is that you make more money when you go to college. You may disagree about the value of an education, but money is an objective thing: you either have it or you don't.

Those who don't go to college don't have as much money.

This statistic should be front and center in your brain as you weigh the cost of skipping out on college.

As the American Institute For Economic Research reports:

So, as tuition rates rise, income levels for those who do not hold a bachelor's degree are converging downward, while income levels for those with a bachelor's degree are diverging upward.

In "Seinfeld," there's a scene where Jerry comes into his apartment and finds Kramer on his sofa. The following exchange ensues.

Jerry: Are you reading my VCR manual?

Kramer: Well, we can't all be reading the classics, Professor Highbrow.

Skipping out on college puts you on the path to reading VCR manuals.

Stat #3: Millennials Without A Degree Are Three Times As Likely To Say Their Job Is Just To Help Them Get By

Group of McDonald's employees behind a restaurant counter

In the classic movie "Office Space," Joanna and Peter discuss Peter's job:

Joanna: So, where do you work, Peter?

Peter Gibbons: Initech.

Joanna: In... yeah, what do you do there?

Peter Gibbons: I sit in a cubicle and I update bank software for the 2000 switch.

Joanna: What's that?

Peter Gibbons: Well see, they wrote all this bank software, and, uh, to save space, they used two digits for the date instead of four. So, like, 98 instead of 1998? Uh, so I go through these thousands of lines of code and, doesn't really matter. I uh, I don't like my job, and, uh, I don't think I'm gonna go anymore.

This hilarious discussion is a perfect example of working a job "just to get by." Those without college degrees often find themselves working soul-sucking jobs they hate. They live from paycheck to paycheck, have almost zero job satisfaction, and work for the weekend.

For the most part, building a satisfying career requires some sort of college degree. Your job may not work in your degree, but a college education opens doors that won't open otherwise.

Stat #4: Almost Four Times More Millennials Without A College Degree Live In Poverty (22% to 6%)

It's hard to believe, but there are still many people in the United States who live below the poverty line, and this number spikes for those who don't have a college education. There are certainly other factors in addition to education that contribute to poverty, but it's clear that the path out of poverty almost always runs through college.

Those who have never experienced the cold touch of poverty tend to underestimate the power of a degree. They have lived in relative comfort their entire lives, unaware that the comfort is in large measure due to the education of those who cared for them.

Stat #5: The Monetary Value Of A High School Diploma Is Falling

Utility worker cleaning up landscaping near a walkway

This is another hard and fast stat that's tough to argue with. Between 1965 and 2013, the average value of a high school diploma fell from $31,284 to $28,000. Frankly, this is pretty startling. This means that the average high school graduate made more during the presidency of JFK than Obama.

Arne Kalleberg, the author of "Good Jobs, Bad Jobs" told NPR:

The blue collar jobs of yesteryear, which built the American middle class—those jobs have simply disappeared. The kinds of jobs that are being created are relatively low-wage, low-skill jobs, such as fast food and big-box stores. And so for most of Americans, we've seen a stagnation in wages and a decline in purchasing powers.

If you neglect college, you are guaranteeing that you will make less income.

In fact, you're guaranteeing that you'll make less than your dad made back in 1961. Unfortunately, prices have gone up since then, which means you can't go down to the corner store and buy an ice cream for a quarter (or whatever ice cream cost back in those days).

In essence, high school graduates are living on an Andy Griffith salary in a Kardashian world, which is terrifying in more ways than one.

Stat #6: The Unemployment Rate For Millennials Without A College Degree Is Three Times As High Than Those With A Degree (12.2% vs. 3.8%)

Not going to college is a great way to ensure you are unemployed at some point. Since 1965, the threat of unemployment has increasingly haunted those who have chosen not to attend college, topping 12% in 2013.

One obvious reason is the increase of those with degrees. When the economy dips, as it did during the Great Recession, the first to go and the last to be rehired will be those without degrees. The stats bear this out. The average unemployed college graduate spends approximately 27 weeks looking for a job, compared to 31 weeks for those who choose high school only.

Think of a university education as a parachute of sorts. It won't totally spare from falling when things get bad, but it will slow down your fall dramatically.

Making The Most Of Your Education

Woman professional smiling for a headshot

The Pew Research also highlighted some significant ways that students can make the most of their college education.

Study Science Or Engineering

To be clear, all college graduates experience the benefits listed above. However, degrees in science or engineering are much more likely to translate into a related job. Apparently those who major in Native American Pottery Studies don't find it as easy to land a job. Also, those who study science and engineering have less regrets about their choice of major.

Get Work Experience In School

Those who wholeheartedly embrace the "college experience" may have more fun in college, but they're more likely to have regrets afterward. On the other hand, those who get some real work experience during school find themselves better prepared for life after the university. Moral of the story: it's more valuable to get an internship than build a float for the homecoming parade. This also points to the value of getting an online education, which allows students to be more flexible and work while in school.

Study Harder

Leading the way in the "Things Students Should Know" category is studying hard in school. 38% of the graduates wish they would have studied harder in school which, frankly is something they should have known in the first place. But it's a good reminder nonetheless.


It turns out that, despite the insistence of some, college is still incredibly valuable. The statistics prove that opting out of a university degree will dramatically hurt people in the long run, damaging their earning potential, increasing the likelihood of unemployment, and decreasing job satisfaction.

George Washington Carver said, "Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom." He may not have had access to the statistics, but it turns out he was right.

Evidence for Effectiveness

Want some more statistics? 95% of PGS alumni believe their education prepared them for the demands of their vocational life. PGS programs are effective, and we've got the stats to prove it.

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Category: Why College