Editor’s note: The United States has slipped against its peers in education attainment over the last few decades. The country now ranks 10th in the world in the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds with high school degrees, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, while Americans ages 55 to 64 still rank No. 1. There’s a similar fall in college: Older Americans rank third across the globe, while the younger age group is 13th.
Yahoo asked Americans without high school or college degrees to share their story and tell us how they believe their lives are different because they lack a diploma. Here’s one perspective.
FIRST PERSON | I didn’t graduate from the University of Kentucky and yes, I do regret it. I’ve been lucky enough to find work in sales to support myself over the past twenty years but I’ve never risen above middle management while college graduates younger than me and with less experience became my boss. With each passing year, a degree is becoming mandatory for all but the lowest paying jobs and, around the world, developing and developed countries are putting an emphasis on higher education in order to compete economically on the global stage.
I made the mistake of majoring in business administration even though, deep down, I knew my heart wasn’t in it. I figured I’d get a solid business degree, get a good job and pursue my interest in writing in my spare time. Once I quit college and eventually got married, I thought I could still sell some travel stories to magazines and newspapers and eventually transition into a full time writer. I quickly found out, having a full time job and the full time obligations paying off a mortgage and two cars has a way of filling up one’s life.
There’s also the thing of not finishing what I started. I’ve noticed so many of my friends and acquaintances who have degrees seem to have that inner confidence from making it through four years of study and exams and most of them have become lifelong friends with people they wouldn’t have met outside a college environment. I sometimes feel like I’m not part of a club I should be a member of.
Some people, like radio and television personalities, have risen to the top of their fields with little or no college and some college dropouts, like Bill Gates, have done very well for themselves in the business world. These success stories are real but, I have to think they beat some pretty long odds to end up where they did. I think it’s far more likely a person without a degree these days will find himself closer to the bottom of the economic ladder than the top.
Even though I’ve done fairly well as far as a job and salary are concerned, I get a little sad every spring when college graduations come around and I see politicians and business people addressing the students who made it all the way; I can’t help but wonder how my life would be different and what kind of life experiences I’ve missed along the way. I think a college degree, even if it’s not directly linked to the job a person starts out with, gives that person more options to advance to another more suitable job when one becomes available.
I would advise anyone who is thinking about going to college to think long and hard about what subject you liked most in high school and major in it even if it’s something far from the worlds of business and politics. College isn’t for everyone but it does have the potential to make a person’s quality of life much more stable and rewarding in the long run.