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Is a college degree worth it these days?

Posted at 9:18 AM, Jul 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-08 11:18:57-04

SALT LAKE CITY — College enrollment has been going down across the country.

According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, spring enrollment fell to 16.9 million from 17.5 million.

Current term enrollment estimates show only seven states with increased enrollment. Utah is number two on that list with 4.7% growth. New Mexico is seeing the biggest decrease with -11.4% enrollment.

Beth Akers, an economist and the author of Making College Pay, says the pandemic has accelerated that trend, but some young people are turning to other options outside of higher education.

“What young people have the potential to do is go somewhere and get specific skills for a specific job," Akers said. "Coding boot camps are an emerging industry where people get fast efficient training and they’re getting picked up by great companies. There are great pathways to careers outside of traditional education.”

There are some factors to consider when figuring out if college is the right choice for you.

“If you’re a little less sure and kind of want the safer path, college might be a better bet for you," Akers said. "It kind of shoots you off in the right direction even if you don’t know where you want to end up.”

Akers says to look at how much money you’re spending versus what you’re likely to earn after graduation. If you do decide to go, know it’s okay to make adjustments along the way.

“The idea is not that you have to pick a path and stick with it but have an idea of where you want to end up and that can change.”

She acknowledges college isn’t for everyone, but says the financial benefits are critically important.

“College does deliver a lot of good returns for a lot of people who go," Akers said. "We live in a capitalist economy where people need to make choices that deliver them enough money to take care of themselves and their families.”

Community colleges around the country have been the hardest hit with 476,000 fewer students enrolled. Salt Lake Community College is projecting its 2020-2021 enrollment numbers to be 53,045. That’s a decrease of 5,427 students from the 2019-2020 academic year.