For three generations, going to college and earning a 4-year degree was the coveted path to a rewarding career with a higher income. But the American belief in the "college for all model" has changed, writes Douglas Belkin in an essay for The Wall Street Journal. "So how did one of the crown jewels of American society squander so much confidence so quickly?"

It began with federal student loans to almost any 18-year-old high school graduate, which had a seismic change on higher education enrollment. "Cash and prestige saturated college campuses while alternatives like vocational and technical schools withered," Belkin explains. "Between 1965 and 2011, university enrollment increased nearly fourfold to 21 million as the earning differential between high school and college graduates expanded."

"For middle-class Americans, college made sense as long as a degree generated a large enough wage premium to make the rising cost of the investment worthwhile," Belvin writes. "As that premium became less consistent, the risks of going to college grew and confidence in college as an institution declined."

A college education "is among the largest investments most Americans will make," Belkin adds. The "math doesn't work for a growing number of families. The percentage of students who enrolled in college after graduating high school fell from 70% in 2016 to 62% in 2022. . . . A poll published in 2022 asked parents if they would rather their child attend a four-year college or a three-year apprenticeship that would train them for a job and pay them while they learned. Nearly half of parents whose child had graduated from college chose the apprenticeship."

Read the full article about rural students by Heather Close at The Rural Blog.