Are Trade Schools the Future?

ARGUMENT (Declared Bias: Right Authoritarian)

Today, more and more students in high school are encouraged to attend college. Many high schools have dedicated programs to maximizing the number of kids that will go on to further education. In California, many Cal-State and University of California colleges are impacted, with hundreds of kids in every class and many more waitlisted. But is this new influx of students into college actually a good thing? There is an increasing amount of evidence indicating that for the average college student, attending a trade/vocational school would be better for their future.

For students attending top-tier state schools and elite private institutions like Ivy League schools and Stanford, the question to attend college is a no-brainer. But for the average college student, this decision is often made rashly, without considering other options. A full 25% of college degree holders earn no more than the average high-school graduate [1]. Combined with the fact that 40% of college attendees drop out before completing their degree, a majority of people who enter college end up making the same or less amount of money than an average person holding only a high school diploma [2]. The dual costs of real money spent on tuition for college and opportunity cost of not working make this an expensive decision to make.

"The dual costs of real money spent on tuition for college and opportunity cost of not working make this an expensive decision to make."

The average college student graduates with over $30,000 of debt; the average trade school graduate has only $10,000 of debt. Also, considering that trade schools are only two years of schooling, trade school graduates will leave with less debt, pay the debt off much quicker and begin to advance in their careers at an accelerated rate compared to the average four-year college student. While colleges significantly increase the earning potential of graduates, the average college graduate is not likely to make a high six-figure income. In fact, the average college graduate makes just over 50,000 dollars a year [3]. In comparison, the median wage of an electrician is higher, at $55,000. Heating, refrigeration and air conditioning mechanics earn $47,000. Meanwhile, jobs such as welding engineers have an average income of $75,000, a full 50% higher than the average college graduate [4]. Many people would be better served by going into these job sectors instead of floundering in college, paying tuition to receive a degree that on average will earn no more money than some trade schools. The job security of trade school graduates is also much higher than those of college graduates. Many trade school vocations are local, hands-on jobs that cannot be shipped overseas. Additionally, many skilled tradesmen are getting older, which leaves a vacuum for younger workers to fill.

The disadvantages for the average college attendee go beyond pure finances. Society has imparted the misguided notion that college is the only way for people to achieve their dreams. Telling youth that following one’s dreams and passions will pay off as long as one works hard is false and unrealistic. Hard work is a requirement for success but it is not a guarantee of success; by pushing unrealistic expectations we have set up young generations for unemployment and disappointment. By pushing college onto young students, we have put ourselves in a situation where many of our youth are deep in debt and disillusioned. This has given the United States a workforce with skills out of line with what is needed for the economy. While the U.S. compares favorably with its labor participation rate compared to other developed countries, the United States still barely cracks the top 10 globally: 29% of our working age population is without a job [5].

"This has given the United States a workforce with skills out of line with what is needed for the economy."

The economic disparities between the rich, poor, and shrinking middle class can be mitigated through reallocating students from college to trade school. Many middle and lower-class students make it into a college, pay tuition only to graduate with an unproductive and often useless degree. While the ultra-rich can continue to make money, many in the middle class are throwing money at a college degree that will not benefit them. For many low income, minority students, the best way to fight racial economic disparity would not be to attend college with the intention of receiving an African/Latino/Asian etc. studies degree but to instead learn a trade. Thus, one way to help break the circle of poverty is to funnel individuals into trade school to learn skills that will translate to the real world and provide upward class mobility.  

Higher education does not care about its students. Colleges will continue to accept as many applicants as possible and continue to try to bring in as much money as possible. Because so many students attend college, the price for a good education has skyrocketed, leaving many with no hope of graduating debt-free. Finding a solution to the problem is not easy. Perhaps a European style system of higher education would work, where only those who test high enough can attend college but college is then subsidized so economic burden would not be placed on those who are qualified to attend on merit. Perhaps the current American system can work, provided we change the current culture and obsession over attending college and begin to emphasize trade schools as a respectable alternative to college. But continuing on our current course of higher education will have compounding negative consequences for our country and its citizens.

Alec SweetStaff Writer

Edited by International Relations Editor Melia Wong

Sources and Notes

Featured Image: “Engineers_11” by InstituteForApprenticeships — Own work. Licensed under Cc BY 2.0 via Flickr Creative Commons — https://flic.kr/p/Y6yxK2

[1] http://libertystreeteconomics.newyorkfed.org/2014/09/college-may-not-pay-off-for-everyone.html#.VAmvfGSwI0g
[2] https://www.thesimpledollar.com/why-you-should-consider-trade-school-instead-of-college/
[3] https://www.refrigerationschool.com/blog/skilled-trades/trade-school-vs-college-the-pros-and-cons/
[4] https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Welding_Engineer/Salary
[5] http://www.oecd.org/employment/emp/32504422.pdf

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