Time, money, and technology influence college attendance drop


Sam Gill

Sam Gill tattooing a client.

Logan Couture, Staff Writer

As 2020 West Shore graduate Sam Gill finishes his latest tattoo, he thinks back on his decision to work as a freelance tattoo artist directly out of high school. Gill is just one of the hundreds of Brevard students who have increasingly decided in the last decade that college is not the necessary path to success.

According to The National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit educational reporting organization that has been collecting data on Brevard Schools for over a decade, in 2012, 70 percent of district students enrolled in college directly after graduation, but in 2022, enrollment fell to 53 percent. Even at West Shore, in 2011, 99 percent of students opted for college, but since then, enrollment has dropped by 10 percent, a small but important dip for such a college-centered school.

Representing the growing minority who opted out of university, Gill decided to work right after graduation. 

“I was always unsure about college, but in my senior year, I saw how normalized it was becoming to not go to college and how successful the people I saw not going were,” Gill said. “Success while having a good time is what I value most, and my decision has helped me achieve that.”

Vincent Kessel, a 2020 graduate, also decided against college and has since become a leading young real estate advisor in Jupiter, Florida. 

Like Gill, Kessel was predominantly focused on success after high school, which he said was the driving force behind his decision to pursue entrepreneurship without college.

“When I was in Eastern Florida doing dual enrollment, I didn’t learn how to do taxes or make money, so I told myself, If I want to be worth a billion dollars by the time I’m fifty, college isn’t really gonna get me there,” Kessel said. “I think the best way to learn how to be successful is to get out in the field and start a business. I want to learn from someone who has done it right.” 

Zack Shahzad, a 2021 graduate currently attending the University of South Florida for an economics degree, agrees that college is somewhat unnecessary. Shahzad is a flight instructor and has been flying planes since he was in high school. Next year, he plans to work for American Airlines as a pilot. 

“I don’t think I will ever use my degree seriously, but that’s because my job doesn’t require a degree,” Shahzad said. “It all depends on what you want to do with your life. I will say that college does give you a lot of good relationships with people, and I’m glad I went because of that.”

Guidance professional and media specialist Mike Drake agrees with Gill and Kessel. He said that societal changes account for decreased college attendance.

“I have noticed more kids deciding college isn’t for them recently, and It has a lot to do with the world we live in,” Drake said. “A lot of times, skills, technology-wise, are evolving so fast that some students think it’s a waste of time to go to college. Some students think that going to college is what economists call an opportunity cost, you could decide to go to college for some years and not earn any significant income or experience, or you could spend that time earning valuable work experience and pay. Still, though, you aren’t getting an engineering job at Harris unless you have a bachelor’s degree in engineering.”

According to a survey of over 400 ranked national universities, since 2003, in-state tuition has increased by 171 percent. This has led to a total of 45.3 million borrowers having student loan debt. These financial factors played a part in Gill’s and many students’ thought processes.

“In high school, I kept hearing stories of people with thousands of dollars in debt after college, and I knew that wasn’t for me,” Gill said. “I get that the education is good, but you’re already sacrificing multiple years of your potential working life without pay. I feel like everyone at West Shore is expected to go to college, and that’s the school’s culture, but I want to say that it’s not a wild idea not to want to go.”

While Kessel advocates against college in some cases, he said that a degree does have benefits and that West Shore is “doing it right” by emphasizing the importance of college.

“College is good for people who don’t know what to do in their life,” Kessel said. “They go to college, learn, and meet people. College is great for connecting with people. I think West Shore [is] setting kids up for success rather than failure, and they’re putting them on the right track, but if you know what you want to do, then college is not the right choice.”