Huffington Post

If you walk into any high school today or even talk to kids as young as grade school, almost every one of them is under the impression that going to college is the only option for them to be successful. This unrealistic expectation that every person should earn a higher education degree needs to shift and young adults, along with their parents, should be aware of the many alternate paths that can pay off in the long run.

The Cost Of A College Degree

For the most recent school year, the College Board reported that the average student spent $25,290 for one year towards a college degree. Because so many people believe college is the only option, Americans who have taken out loans to get a degree collectively owe $1.5 trillion in student loan debt.

While the average person with a college degree earns a higher salary than someone without higher education, it truly depends on your major and the industry you choose to work in. People with degrees in subjects like art, social work, and education are being paid the same — or even less — than someone without the education, and now have loans to pay off on top of it.

The Impact On Our Nation’s Economy

The imbalance of employees looking for office-type jobs versus those trained in a specific vocation has grown to a point of concern. Certain industries are so short on skilled professionals that our country’s infrastructure is suffering. In fact, nearly 90% the construction industry has extreme concerns about not being able to find enough skilled labor to build schools, hospitals, roadways and more.

On the other hand, Americans who accrue student loan debt are seeing more long-term financial distress because of the price tag on a college education. This is causing a large shift in our nation’s culture, with 45% of those with student debt putting off major milestones like buying a house or getting married.

The Truth About Alternative Paths

Just because you don’t get a degree from a four-year university doesn’t mean you have to stop learning. Many vocational occupations have degrees of their own which you can earn while you are already working and come at a much cheaper cost.

Most people are unaware that industries like construction and maintenance have jobs with six-figure salaries. Often, those jobs require the skills and expertise of an engineer, but rather than learning from a book, the workers going after these are learning on-the-job and start earning money right out of college rather than accumulating debt.

While four-year college degrees are necessary for many careers, it’s just not for everyone. Exploring the alternative opportunities available early on could potentially help fix our nation’s student debt issues and lead to less financial stress.