College or Not?

Convincing parents and students to eschew college for a career in the trades appears to be a legitimate concern of many other businesses – not just those in commercial real estate.  According to a January 12, 2017 article in USA Today[1]: 

Americans with no more than a high school diploma have fallen so far behind college graduates in their economic lives that the earnings gap between college grads and everyone else has reached its widest point on record. 

College graduates, on average, earned 56% more than high school grads in 2015, according to data compiled by the Economic Policy Institute.  That was up from 51% in 1999 and is the largest such gap in EPI’s figures dating to 1973.

Yet few experts think the solution is simply to send more students to four-year colleges.  Many young people either don’t want to spend more years in school or aren’t prepared to do so.   Already, four in every 10 college students drop out before graduating — often with debt loads they will struggle to repay without a degree.

…labor economists say, many high school grads would benefit from a more comprehensive approach to obtaining skills, especially involving technology, that are increasingly in demand.  Some of these trends might eventually reverse themselves if more high school grads acquire the skills needed for higher-paying work.  Though many middle-income jobs don’t require college, nearly all require some post-high school education or training.

What [Georgetown University economist] Harry Holzer calls the “new middle” includes such health care jobs as X-ray technicians and phlebotomists, as well as computer-controlled manufacturing and some office occupations, like paralegals.  A typical X-ray technician, for example, earns nearly $60,000 a year and needs only a two-year degree, according to government data.

And these “new middle” positions are typically the same jobs for which employers have complained that they can’t find enough qualified people to fill.  Labor experts say the U.S. educational system is failing to help young people acquire such skills. 

If they know where to look, high school graduates can choose from among numerous options for vocational skills training — from two-year programs to online courses to for-profit schools.

It is important to recognize that this USAToday survey represented a “broad brush” overview of all careers for high school graduates.  Employees in the building engineering field are well compensated – certainly much higher than the average pay rate for high school graduates cited in the article.  With this in mind, the pay disparity between the “average” college graduate and those high school graduates who have well-paying careers in building engineering is probably not as significant as it is represented in the report.

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