It’s that time of year.
Hundreds of thousands of mostly young people are on the cusp of graduation. In a few weeks time, they will flip their tassels and eagerly accept that thin, and very expensive, piece of paper that declares them knowledgeable about something and hopefully hirable.
For certain young people, completing college is an unprecedented achievement. Some of today’s graduates will be the first in their families to earn four-year degrees. But for so many others, attending college is not a choice or a decision, but an expectation.
“Go to college. Get a bachelor’s degree,” that’s the refrain that rings in the heads of high school students all over the country. And just over a third do.
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For many reasons, that may be viewed as a good thing.
Plenty of people who attend college reap its benefits over the years, enjoying higher salaries and increased job opportunities. Higher education can open doors, especially for those with limited resources.
But getting a degree isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. Graduates frequently labor under crippling student debt that they'll spend decades repaying. And some – particularly more recent college graduates – struggle to find employment that matches their skill-sets.
A recent report from the Economic Policy Institute found that while the underemployment rate for young college graduates has recovered from its recession-level peak, 11 percent still find themselves either without work or working less than they’d like to be. And while wages for college grads have been steadily increasingly for several years, they’re still well below wages during the last economic boom.
Part of the problem is that for many young people college is something they’re simply supposed to do, and they make the decision – and a sizable financial investment – to attend college without considering what other stable, lucrative and plentiful opportunities await them.
Indeed, there are some 30 million jobs in the U.S. that pay an average of $55,000 per year and don’t require a bachelor’s degree, says the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce.
That should help dispel the myth that the only path to financial stability is through a college campus and encourage more ambitious high school students to consider options other than the typical four-year college track.
Of course, finding a job in the trades does not mean that education ends with high school. Most workers need additional training, certification, even an associate’s degree to pursue a skilled profession. But community colleges and vocational schools come at a fraction of the cost of four-year universities and often offer grants and financial assistance as incentives.
And the return in good wages is often swifter than for those who pursue undergraduate degrees.
For a lot of young people there’s a stigma to working as a skilled laborer and the misconception that it doesn’t pay very well. That’s unfortunate and also wrong.
High school students take note: right now, there may not be a better opportunity than a trade for a young person to get ahead early in life.