More high school grads delay going to college

Some students work or take gap years instead.

Kia Farhang

When Chris Kraft was a senior at Minnetonka High School, most of his teachers assumed he’d go straight to college.

Instead, the biology sophomore spent a year in Brazil, studying at local schools without earning credit before attending the University of Minnesota.

“It was so rare to hear about people doing this kind of thing,” Kraft said. “I guess it just didn’t seem like it was even a possibility.”

Kraft is part of a growing share of high school graduates who are choosing not to immediately enroll in higher education. A third of all 2012 graduates were not enrolled in a college or university in October — the highest rate since 2006, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Young adults may be forgoing college because the economy is finally starting to turn around, said Dave Senf, a labor market analyst at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

“Instead of hiding in college, they’re actually going out into the market,” Senf said.

But projections show higher education may be increasingly necessary in coming years. A 2010 study by Georgetown University predicted that by 2018, 70 percent of all jobs in Minnesota will require postsecondary education, about 7 percentage points higher than the predicted national average.

Because the unemployment rate is still so high, Senf said, employers have the upper hand.

“They have their pick of who they want, and usually it seems they go with the higher education,” he said.

That’s different from periods of low unemployment, like the 1990s.

Then, he said, “If you had a pulse, you were hired.”

Education ‘for the rest of us’

While his trip to Brazil didn’t help him decide his career path, Kraft said it improved his people skills.

“I’m not exaggerating in saying it’s the best decision I’ve ever had to make,” Kraft said.

While college may seem like a given for many high school graduates, opportunities like travel, work and time off can be tempting.

Jean Sherwood, a counselor at Southwest High School with more than 20 years of experience, said she encourages all of her students to go to college because finding work without a degree is becoming more difficult.

“I think people are realizing that,” she said. “We still have our Bill Gates and different people out there that are brilliant, but for the rest of us, we need a little bit more education.”

Some students consider gap years for economic reasons. Kaya Richie, a senior at Highland Park Senior High School, said he was planning to take a gap year to work on his theater career and save money.

“That’s why a lot of students take a year off, because they don’t have enough,” said Richie, 17.

He said he now plans to go to community college, and most students his age should do the same.

“Even though the cost of education is completely ridiculous, it’s definitely worth doing,” Richie said. “Somebody who’s got an associate’s degree just makes piles less than somebody who’s even got a bachelor’s.”

In 2011, Minnesota high school graduates over age 25 earned a median of $29,200, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Minnesotans in the same age range with some college education or an associate’s degree earned $34,500 and those with a bachelor’s degree earned $48,800.

Richie said he has a few friends who plan to start working directly after high school, which he said is a bad idea.

“I think you can do it,” he said. “You can definitely just stick with the same job, do it really well and work your way up, but I wouldn’t advise it.”