“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” This was on a bumper sticker my father had on his 1967 Buick LeSabre. This statement reminds us it is more expensive to be reactive rather than to be pro-active. Education is sustainable and as radio host Joe Madison says, “Education is the new currency for the 21st century.” Studies show among millennials ages 25-32, the median annual earnings for full time working college degree holder is $17,500 greater than for those with high school diplomas only. This stat proves how important a higher education is. Tennessee currently ranks 43rd in the nation in the share of residents who have completed college.
The issue used to be whether or not you could get into school. Now the issue is whether you can afford to stay in and graduate. If you are a non-traditional student (age 25 and older), there are not many grants, financial aid or scholarships available. A 2014 report showed 40 percent of all college and graduate students were over the age of 25. The non-traditional students are now forced to take out loans for an education that may not produce the desired job once they finish. Unfortunately, the cost of a college degree may now be considered the new mortgage for the 21st century.
Student Loan Hero reported more than 43 million Americans have student loan debt now totaling $1.26 trillion. Over 11 percent are showing they are delinquent on their loans. These are people that are not even able to afford the education after they graduated. Many college grads are forced to work jobs making $15 per hour or less in positions not in their field. The average affordable rent at minimum wage is $631 per month. This means one would have to work 61 hours at minimum wage to afford to rent 1 bedroom home.
What fields should one study to ensure a job is waiting once you graduate? The challenge is to think differently. Majors in engineering and computer science fields have and will give graduates a better return on the education investment. We should therefore encourage our children to study fields in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Green jobs are also being created across all economic sectors. According to SimplyHired.com, the average annual salaries range from solar installer at $31,000, to Environmental architect of $71,000. Geoscientists and environmental scientists can earn up to $81,000 per year. Environmental engineers can earn more than $100,000 per year. This field is expected to increase by 25 percent through 2016. Senior urban planners, environmental specialist, renewable energy managers and chief sustainability officers are other top paying jobs that will be needed for quite some time. The key is to think about the future and to be pro-active with the education needed to survive in the 21st century.
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