The article from Fortune claims that US undergraduate college enrollment dropped 8% from 2019 to 2022, with declines even after returning to in-person classes, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse. 

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Key takeaways:

  • Many young people have opted out of college due to high tuition costs, student debt, and the pandemic’s impact.
  • Hourly jobs or careers that don’t require a degree have become more attractive to some young people than pursuing a college education.
  • The pandemic has created a sense of independence and self-reliance in some young people, leading them to pursue alternative paths.
  • The decline in college enrollment could worsen labor shortages in various fields and impact the national economy.
  • Young people are increasingly jaded by educational institutions and feel that they aren’t learning anything during remote learning.
  • The student debt issue looms large in the minds of young Americans, and President Biden’s efforts to cancel debt have been met with resistance from the Supreme Court.
  • Some young people are being recruited by manufacturing companies that have raised wages to fill shortages, making them less likely to pursue college.
  • Sign-on bonuses and higher wages in industries like restaurant and retail have made them more attractive to young people than a college education.
  • The decline in the college-going rate since 2018 is the steepest on record, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a significant drop in college enrollment in the United States, with undergraduate college enrollment dropping by 8% from 2019 to 2022. The decline in the college-going rate since 2018 is the steepest on record, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many young people, who came of age during the pandemic, have turned to hourly jobs or careers that don’t require a degree due to the high tuition and the prospect of student debt.

This trend is a cause for concern for economists, who predict dire consequences for the US economy. Fewer college graduates could worsen labor shortages in fields from healthcare to information technology. Those who forgo college usually earn lower lifetime earnings, 75% less compared with those who get bachelor’s degrees, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. And when the economy sours, those without degrees are more likely to lose jobs.

In addition to the financial challenges, many students feel disillusioned with education institutions. The pandemic has forced remote learning, and students felt left on their own. Many took part-time jobs, while some felt they weren’t learning anything, and the idea of four more years of school held little appeal.

However, some students are opting for alternative paths to success. Grayson Hart, who initially planned to attend college to pursue a career in acting or teaching, turned down every college he applied to after a year of remote learning. He is now directing a youth theater program in Jackson, Tennessee. Hart said that the pandemic gave him the time and confidence to pursue his own path.

Across Tennessee, the trend of not attending college has accelerated, with more young people taking jobs that pay more than ever before. For example, the $5.6 billion Ford plant near Jackson, Tennessee, promises to create 5,000 jobs, and its construction is already drawing young workers like Daniel Moody, 19. Moody was recruited to run plumbing for the plant after graduating from a Memphis high school in 2021. Now earning $24 an hour, he says he is glad he passed on college.


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