OK Fellow Boomers, Here’s Where Today’s Youth May Have a Point

You may have seen this ad from Amazon, in which a young man checks in on his grandfather and they bond over music. It’s a heartwarming moment: A young person spending time with their elder and helping them stay connected to our tech-immersed world.

But is it realistic – especially in an environment where young people, frustrated by older generations’ action or inaction on certain issues, are automatically dismissing what seniors have to say with an “OK Boomer” attitude?

By the looks of it, the answer is a definitive “no,” but we can’t just point the finger at the perceived stubbornness of youth. The reality we face today is this: older Americans do have plenty of wisdom to pass down, but so much has changed in the last few decades that there are certain areas where what we think we know may no longer be true.

Education is a perfect example. While many Baby Boomers might have been told that earning a four-year degree was the best-possible way to be successful, it wasn’t as much of a “workforce requirement” as it is today. In 1985, just 26% of employed Boomers between 25-29 years old held a bachelor’s degree, according to Pew Research. In 2000, that number rose to 32% for Gen Xers, and in 2016, it increased again to 40% for millennials. Pew’s report was published in 2017, and I’d venture to guess that number has climbed since.

More shocking is how significantly the cost of obtaining a college degree has grown. From 1988 to 2018, tuition at a four-year public college/university has increased 213%. Tuition at a four-year private, nonprofit college/university has increased 129%.

The challenge of course is that wages haven’t increased anywhere near as much – since 1970, wages have only gone up by around 67% – and as a result, today’s young people are investing hundreds of thousands of dollars into postsecondary degrees that will take them decades to pay off.

That’s something many of us were fortunate enough not to face at just 18 years old. And that’s really, truly OK, so long as we acknowledge the difference and do whatever we can to change the narrative.

That means using our influence to find a solution. Politicians’ proposed student loan forgiveness plans are one thing to consider – our vote is our voice, after all. But consider getting to this issue at its root, by providing students with an education that focuses on career readiness.

By career readiness, I mean an approach to education that incorporates college preparedness, and that focuses first and foremost on helping young people understand what opportunities are out there, plus what it will take to pursue them – as early as middle and high school. It’s an approach that involves talking to students about skilled trades without any sort of stigma, because many of those fields are avenues to high-paying careers that require less upfront investment. It’s an approach that encourages students to explore different industries, try them on, and possibly work toward them with career technical education. And finally, it’s an approach our young people will appreciate: By calling for a career readiness education, we will demonstrate to the younger generation that we do care about their long-term well-being.

That’s what all this “OK Boomer” stuff is about anyway, younger generations feeling as though the older folks don’t have their best interests at heart. We know that that’s not true – these are our kids and our kids’ kids we’re talking about. Of course we want them to succeed.

Tackling the student debt issue with career readiness is a great way to help them do so. And, I suspect that this sort of education transformation just might be so revolutionary, our grandkids could very well be telling their grandkids all about it someday.

Kevin P. Chavous, a former District of Columbia City Council member, is an attorney, author, education reform activist, and president of academics, policy and schools for K12 Inc.

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