This may be a radical idea in a world in which education is highly prized, but for some people, putting off college for 6-7 years may be a good idea. As with many concepts to address a broken system, this does not apply to students in countries with free or low-cost educational options. The broken system in question is in the United States and the target demographic is mostly made up of middle-class families.
Higher education costs have risen much more than the rate of inflation for decades and the stated cost of a four-year undergraduate degree is terrifyingly high. With grants and scholarships, most middle-class families don’t pay close to that sticker price, but they inevitably are still saddled with large, perhaps debilitating levels of student loan debt that will likely haunt them for decades. Post-graduate education can easily bring that debt into the six-figures.
Delaying college may help people in three ways.
First, there would be a drop in demand, and with constant or increasing supply, the cost of higher education should come down.
Second, the extra half-dozen years of growth in educational savings accounts means that the student will have more money to contribute up front and fewer loans to pay back later.
Third, the student-to-be could be saving for retirement early. A person who invests $7,600 into a retirement account at $100 per month from age 20 to 26 and four months will have more for retirement than a person who invests $46,500 at the same rate beginning at 26 and five months and ending at age 65. That early growth in retirement savings provides a huge benefit later in life.
The negative to delayed college education – we all lose skills if we don’t use them. That is likely especially true with math and science knowledge. For those who opt to delay their college education, continued study would be a vital component to future success. With the free or low-cost offerings on Coursera, there is a vehicle to keeping those skills sharpened, but it will take a dedicated student.
Another negative could be that these delayed graduates are at a disadvantage for career advancement since their wealthier coworkers who went straight on to college and graduate school will have beat them to the workplace by 6-7 years. In today’s gig and start-up economy, however, that is less of an advantage than it would have been in the past.
This delayed college idea only works if there are jobs available for high school graduates that pay enough for the excess to be invested in retirement and possibly educational accounts. An economy such as the one we are experiencing now – low unemployment and decent pay for people with the intelligence to master higher-level skills.
There are signs the economy is beginning to slow – much of that can be tied to President Trump’s use of tariffs and pursuit of policies that threaten global stability – but it’s still going along strong enough for this idea to be a real option for many recent middle-class high school graduates.