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Is a College Degree Worth it?



April 25 is “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day,” the one day every year when young people can personally experience the “work world” of their parent(s) or mentor. This year, more young people than ever are showing an interest in learning “the trades”…and with good reason.


According to Forbes (24 July 2018), college tuition is increasing almost eight times faster than wages, with more than $1.5 trillion in college loans outstanding, and the average borrower owing more than $37,000.


Another article from Forbes (8 June 2018), noted that:

A recent report issued by Burning Glass and the Strada Institute finds that 43% of recent college graduates are underemployed in their first job out of college.

A recent report issued by Burning Glass and the Strada Institute finds that 43% of recent college graduates are underemployed in their first job out of college.

A recent report issued by Burning Glass and the Strada Institute finds that 43% of recent college graduates are underemployed in their first job out of college. Of those, two-thirds are still underemployed after five years, and just over half remain so after ten years. By contrast, just one in ten graduates who land a first job appropriate to their skill level slip into underemployment after five years.

Let those numbers sink in for a moment. Whatever employment opportunities a college degree supposedly offers had better become A LOT more lucrative than it is right now in order to justify these astronomical tuition increases. And going into tens of thousands of dollars of debt is causing many young people to seriously reevaluate whether or they even need a college degree to achieve their professional ambitions.


It was along those lines of questioning that Popular Mechanics (13 March 2019), published “must read” article recommending a profitable and practical alternative: the trades. The trades offer young people an opportunity to "learn while they earn." Consequently, this allows them to complete their college degrees in a less conventional BUT debt-free manner: at company expense, over time.


Want to be a welder? This seemingly "simple" job builds the cars we drive and the buildings in which we work and live. The finest welders perform an important task that also happens to pay quite well.


Electricians are another example of this reality. As a homeowner, I can certainly attest to the fact that electricians are well paid, and I have the service invoices to prove it. A number of my family members and friends entered the trades and never went to college (a few never even graduated high school)…and most of them make a better living than I ever did with my college degree.


The article continued by suggesting a number of possible entry points into the trades and how apprentices could attain various certifications while improving their skills.


Needless to say, our society needs to actively “de-shame” anyone pursuing a trade. In fact, perhaps we should start by renaming the trades as “skills for which others are willing to pay handsomely.” ALL skill development is valuable and there's no telling where someone who enjoys learning may end up. The list of possibilities is extensive…


Since I was a high school history teacher for 14 years, my favorite anecdotes are usually historical in nature. And one of my favorite "blue collar" stories concerns the youngest son of 15 siblings born to a working-class father. After attending school for only two years, his options as a teenager were rather limited, so he apprenticed with his older brother in a print shop…a rather messy trade.


Working in this trade helped him master communication, business management, politics, and human nature. He went on to publish several influential newspapers and books before franchising his printing business to a number of other cities. At the age of 42, he became wealthy enough that he was able to dedicate his life in service to his country and to inventing many innovations still used today.


His name? Benjamin Franklin…one of America’s most beloved Founding Fathers.


I’m firmly convinced that if he were still around to run his print shop, he’d gladly welcome all the young visitors to Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day…and share with them what had so profoundly changed the direction of his own life: the value of a career in the trades.

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