A Texas Gen Xer who went to college in his 40s says it didn't help him find a job and saddled him with over $100k in student debt

Kenneth Ferraro

Kenneth Ferraro, 46, says going to college later in life hasn’t helped him much in the job market.Kenneth Ferraro

  • A Texas-based truck driver went to college in his 40s because he wanted to switch careers.

  • He said getting a degree hasn’t helped him find a job and that he has over $100,000 in student debt.

  • He thinks his age and having a college degree have sometimes held him back in the job market.

At age 40, Kenneth Ferraro decided to pursue a college degree for the first time. He’s come to regret this decision.

Ferraro, who’s based in Texas, had worked as a truck driver for decades, he told Business Insider via email. He said the job provided a stable income, but that he long desired a different career. He thought going back to school was the best way to make this a reality.

“I traveled across the country, worked long hours, and was more than a little burned out,” he said. “This was not a career I had chosen, but like many people, I happened into it. Going to college out of high school was not financially possible.”

In 2018, Ferraro began his studies by attending a local community college part-time, but he said he enjoyed the experience so much that he quit his truck driving job to focus on school. After completing his associate degree, he went on to pursue a bachelor’s degree in political science from New York University.

“I knew it would be financially crippling, but I believed the prestigious credential would bolster my employment opportunities after graduation,” he said.

However, despite applying for countless jobs over the past few years, Ferraro’s had little luck. He said the only role he’s been able to land is a delivery driver position for a large beverage company — and he’s stuck with over $100,000 in student loan debt.

“After all my hard work and sacrifice, the only work that I have been able to secure is the same type of work that I have been doing my whole life,” he said. My education and dedication to bettering myself have cost me financially and emotionally.

The US male unemployment rate is low compared to past decades, but Ferraro is among the men who have struggled to find work or have stopped looking altogether. In 1950, about 97% of American men ages 25 to 54 had a job or were actively looking for one, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As of June, this figure had fallen to about 89%.

Among the several explanations for this trend is that in recent decades, it’s become difficult for some men to land a well-paying job without a college degree — a development that’s contributed to some men leaving the labor force. These challenges persist today for men even as more companies have started hiring candidates without a degree.

The perceived benefits of a college degree have led more Americans to go back to school later in life. About 34% of college undergraduates and 44% of community college enrollees are age 25 or older, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

But as Ferraro and many recent college graduates can attest to, having a degree doesn’t guarantee success in the job market. Last November, the unemployment rate of US college graduates between the ages of 22 and 27 was 5% compared to the 3.7% overall US unemployment rate. That was the most the “recent graduate” unemployment rate had exceeded the overall rate in the over three decades of New York Fed data. Factor in the cost of college and pursuing a degree might not be worth it for some people.

Ferraro shared the biggest challenges he’s faced in his job search, including why he thinks having a college degree has sometimes worked against him.

Being an older college graduate could make it hard to land certain types of jobs

Ferraro always knew that pursuing a new career wouldn’t be easy. At age 42, he was happy to spend six months interning for a local congressperson.

However, Ferraro’s struggles to find a full-time government job left him frustrated. While having a college degree improved his credentials, he thinks his age has held him back in the job market.

Ferraro recalled applying for an entry-level position in the office of a government official, a role he thought would be the “perfect” job for him to kick-start his new career.

The early stages of the interview process seemed promising, but he said things changed when he had an in-person interview.

“As soon as the hiring manager saw me, his whole demeanor changed,” Ferraro said. “He ran through the questions and never truly engaged with me.”

A few weeks later, Ferraro learned that he was no longer being considered for the role. The only explanation that made sense to him was that the hiring manager wasn’t interested in candidates as old as him.

“A man in his forties, who is the perfect candidate on paper, willing to work, willing to learn, and willing to apply himself to any task, is still a man in his 40s,” he said. “Therefore, not a valid candidate.”

Ferraro needed an income, and after struggling to land jobs in his field of study, he reluctantly decided to expand his search to the truck driver jobs he’d hoped to escape.

But despite his decades of prior experience, Ferraro said he struggled to land an interview for driving jobs — a development that baffled him. But then he had an idea: What if he removed his college education from his résume when he applied?

“I did not start receiving interviews until I removed the education section on my application,” he said. “My degree was holding me back.”

Despite Ferraro’s challenges, truck drivers have generally been in high demand in recent years, in part due to the e-commerce boom tied to the pandemic. But as online shopping trends have begun to normalize, some drivers have had a harder time finding work.

Ferraro eventually landed a job similar to the one he had before his schooling began in 2018, but he said he’s earning about 20% less per hour than he used to. He said his employer prioritizes experience at the company over experience in the broader trucking industry.

As things stand, Ferraro said he regrets going to college. However, he still hopes that his education will eventually help him secure an entry-level government role.

After working as a driver during the day, he said he attends graduate school at night. He’s working toward his master’s in public administration and is continuing to apply for jobs.

“This situation is very frustrating,” he said. “It feels like I am putting in so much effort, without any return.”

Have you given up looking for work or are you struggling to find a job? Have you gone back to college later in life? If so, reach out to this reporter at jzinkula@businessinsider.com.

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