Along Sheridan Road, a young couple pushes a small, blue ice cream cart on the sidewalk. Smiling, they work their way up the inclined road leading to downtown Evanston. Three chrome bells attached to the handle jingle as the worn out rubber wheels meet the ground. Bright, colorful pictures of ice cream bars and flavors plaster the side of the cart. Inside, chunks of dry ice surround stacks of fruit popsicles and creamy chocolate bars. For this engaged couple, selling ice cream is the better alternative to college.
Zeporah Pyaohn, 21, from Chicago pushes around her ice cream cart to raise money for family and college expenses. Pyaohn attended Northeastern Illinois University while working 45 hours each week. As her grades went down, she decided to take a gap year.
“I see nowhere in the future that our economy will go back up like we once were,” Pyaohn said. “After college and all the costs you won't get the job you excepted, which is definitely not worth it.”
34.1 percent of 2013 high school graduates will not be attending college, with 74.2 percent of them working or looking for work, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Recent high school graduates face the decision of joining the workforce or continuing education. While many argue that college tuition costs too much money and throws students into debt, most financial aid experts agree that college is worth the cost.
Senior Vice President and Publisher of Edvisors.com, a website about planning and paying for college, Mark Kantrowitz said, “Someone who has a bachelor’s degree will have, over the course of their lifetime in current dollars, $1.2 million more than someone with just a high school diploma.”
Northwestern University student and 20-year-old Robert Jin is studying electrical engineering. He received financial aid to attend the university and worked as an office aide eight hours per week during the school year as a part of a work-study program. A work-study “provides part-time jobs for students with financial need, allowing them to earn money to help pay education expenses,” according to the U.S. Department of Education. Jin, like Kantrowitz sees the value of a degree in the workplace.
“Many jobs require at least a bachelor's degree, so there is not much room for career advancement without a college degree,” Jin said.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 31 percent of full-time students were also a part of the workforce, compared to 73.8 percent for part-time students.
“Students who work full time while enrolled in college are half as likely to graduate or obtain a bachelors degree within 6 years as students who work less than 12 hours a week,” Kantrowitz said.
Other experts, such as co-founder of the TuitionCoach website, Paul Wrubel sees the issue as a problem caused by financial aid offices.
“College is in a period of real crisis,” Wrubel said. “It’s estimated that the financial aid system, which is put in place to help disadvantaged people primarily, is so complicated that it discourages over half a million college-ready kids from going to college every year.”
With many young people like Pyaohn learning in an unsupportive economy, it is becoming more popular to choose work over an education, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Founder of College Funding Resource, a financial aid website, Felicia Gopaul believes students must make sacrifices if they are dedicated to getting a degree.
“In today’s global and competitive market, people without a college degree face limited options both in the short term and the long run,” Gopaul said. “It’s only for a short time and the rewards of a college degree will pay dividends for years to come.”