Americans share glimpses into country’s educational slide

Tim Skillern
Yahoo! News

The United States is slipping against its peers in educational attainment.

Notably, the country now ranks 10th in the world in the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds who’ve graduated high school, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Americans claim the top spot for 55- to 64-year-olds globally. There also has been a similar skid in college: The older age group places third among those with a diploma, and younger Americans—those no more than a decade out of what could have been their college years—are 13th across the globe.

CFR notes that an educational slide endangers a nation’s innovation, prosperity and national security. But the country’s economy aside, how does living a life sans a degree hit home for individual Americans, at least anecdotally? Yahoo News asked younger readers who haven’t obtained high school or college degrees to write about their choices not to graduate. Here are a few of their perspectives.

No apologies from a valedictorian

Roderick Brenes, 28, of California, graduated as high school valedictorian in 2003 and assumed he’d head to college. But with his family stuck in a financial netherworld—they earned too much for financial aid and too little to pay for his college of choice—he grew frustrated. After just two months at a community college in Merced, he dropped out and moved to Prague, where he pulled down $800 a month teaching at an all-English preschool. After five years, he traveled to China to study Mandarin. All along, he told himself he’d eventually go back to college.

He writes:

“It never happened. I kept telling myself, ‘I'll go back next year.’

“China was awesome, but after three years I grew tired of the traveler lifestyle. Plus, the 6,000-renminbi-per-month salary just didn't allow me to save much in dollars. I began to feel that money was going to be the key to a secure future, and I started researching how to make more of it. A host of deadends and scams eventually led me to a business training community where I learned the basics of online business. At the same time, I had also started a brick-and-mortar sandwich shop with a buddy of mine in China. It was becoming clear that I would not be going to university any time soon.

“The sandwich shop failed due to a lack of financial backing, but my online business ventures were very successful. I have since returned to the United States, and I am now self-employed as an online marketer, building websites and ranking them in search engines.

“I never did make it to college. And that was the best decision I ever made. I have zero debt in college loans. I've been to more countries than my age in years. I speak two foreign languages fluently. Lastly, being the sole proprietor of a successful online business is something I love doing.”

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Lack of degree cripples finances

Shauna Silva, 30, of Connecticut, is unemployed after working in retail for several years. She earned her high school diploma in 2001 and studied psychology at Teikyo Post University in Waterbury. She dropped out when she realized she didn't have the money to complete her degree.

She writes:

“Life without a degree is financially crippling. I am stuck making minimum wage. I'm looking for writing jobs or something in the medical field, and I have applied to about two dozen jobs in the past month, yet I've secured only one interview. Paying back student loans, not to mention credit cards, has been tough. I am nearly $30,000 in debt.

“I made a lot of mistakes in my 20s, and I'm paying for it now. It is tough to find a positive aspect of not having a degree. The only bright spot: I have experience in various fields, which could work out in my favor once I return to the working world. If I had finished my schooling and earned my degree, I know I would have made four times more—at least $40,000—than what I have been making per year.”

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Eschewing college is justified when there's no solid direction

Brandie Parton, 32, of Georgia, got married a month after graduating from high school in 1999. But her wedding didn’t halt her college plans. She says she just lacked direction, and she didn’t want to toss time and money at college until inspiration hit her. She now writes from home and cares for her 9- and 11-year-old children.

“I occasionally wish that I had a degree. I am not sure what the future will hold for me in regard to higher learning. I may go to college when my kids are grown. I would most likely earn an English degree to help me with my writing if I did go back. However, it is possible that I will go into a totally different career field. However, since I got married young and had children young, I have plenty of time to find my niche in life. Therefore, I have not regretted not obtaining a degree.

“My choice of neglecting college was the best decision for me. I have enjoyed staying home with my children and personally being there as they took their first steps and said their first words. Being able to witness these events and attending school parties and field trips with them now is worth far more than any college degree. It's too bad there isn't some sort of college credit for shaping the next generation, as I think I would be close to earning a bachelor's degree.”

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Assault in high school derails life’s plans

Sonya Abarcar, 34, of Indiana, left her inner-city Chicago high school midway through her senior year after she accused a teacher of sexually assaulting her. After the charges were dropped—and when students and teachers began bullying her, she said—she considered transferring but instead dropped out. Because she excelled academically, dropping out was one of her biggest mistakes, she says. She hasn’t had trouble finding work, but she regrets not graduating.

“I was always a highly motivated person, so I began applying for jobs. I taught myself to speak Spanish, I could type 80 words per minute, and I had many other talents that I used to land a job with a utility company in Chicago. Within a year, I worked my way up the ladder and found myself making a salary of $32,000 in a customer service job.

“I've done well in my life by always maintaining a secure job with great benefits to take care of my only child but my life would have been much different if I would have received my diploma.

“I now work for a transportation company and make more than $60,000 a year with excellent benefits. Even with all of that, I'm not happy. We live in a world that will judge you based on titles and education. Due to this class system, if you haven't attained a certain level of education, you receive less respect in some venues.

“I am often mistaken for a college graduate when I speak, but I am mortified when I have to admit that I didn't finish school. I can cite Voltaire, speak German, and calculate the escape velocity from Earth, but it means nothing to many people because I don't have my diploma and degree. I have decided to get my GED and enroll in college classes to major in astrophysics, a subject that I've always studied and loved. Although I can't complain, I know that I would have built a better career for myself if I would have stayed in school.”

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More stories of high school and college dropouts:

Of childhood dreams, homemaker wasn't one of them

Bumps on the road to college

No college made me expendable, but there is light ahead

Life without college means hardships, but no regrets