This reason escapes a lot of peoples’ notice. Most folks make a distinction between college and vocational education. They think of them as separate entities, i.e., higher education versus learning a trade. Even worse is the widespread conviction among the general public and high school advisory counselors that college is for smart kids while the dummies ought to learn a trade.
If that’s the case, then explain why so many incoming college students have to enroll in remedial studies courses trying to learn things they should have learned in high school. One source says that anywhere from 28 percent to 40 percent of students enroll in at least one remedial course and more than half of students entering community colleges do. It used to be you had to be academically superior to get accepted into college. Nowadays, almost anyone can.
Once you’re in, you don’t necessarily have to pursue complicated studies. Many college degrees are awarded for what amounts to little more than white collar vocational training. It used to be that many students used to major in one of the so-called “liberal arts” with no clear idea of what to do after graduation. The liberal arts covered fields such as literature, history, humanities, foreign languages and social science. If you graduated with a liberal arts degree it was supposed to signify that you were a well-rounded, intelligent person suitable to adapt to any number of careers.
For example, my English degrees (B.A. and M.A.) landed me a rewarding career in trade journalism, even though I did not study journalism per se. However, what I learned in studying literature and creative writing easily translated into journalism.
Nowadays, colleges and universities offer degrees in specialized fields that are really little more than white collar trades. You can obtain degrees in subjects such as graphic design, public relations, hospitality management, etc. I would argue that journalism also falls into the category of a white collar trade.
Are you better off doing that than pursuing a blue collar trade? Let’s compare. As of July 2017, the average pay for a graphic designer was $42,333 annually. The average pay for a plumber in the same time frame was $50,465. Do more comparisons between white collar and blue collar trades and you’ll find many instances in which blue collar trade workers earn more.
A big difference, though, is that it costs much more to obtain a degree for a white collar trade than one in the blue collar world. The difference can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. As I have pointed out in previous blogs, college costs megabucks while blue collar vocational training is a small fraction of the amount, and is often free, paid for by an employer. Many apprenticeships offer work-study programs where you actually get paid a living wage while learning a trade.
What about opportunities for advancement? Top performers in any field, white collar or blue collar, will end up earning top dollar. If you prove to be a top-notch plumber, HVAC mechanic or electrician, you will be the last to be laid off and the first recruited for top paying positions. What’s more, the blue collar trades offer excellent opportunities to own your own business eventually. The sky is the limit for income when it comes to business ownership.
So don’t be bamboozled when someone puts trade workers on a lower pedestal than college graduates. Just because someone works at a desk and can’t wear jeans to work doesn’t make that person superior to a skilled craft worker. Most of the time, the craft worker will excel at one measure of intelligence most college graduates lack – common sense.
I’ll tell you about one more reason why college is a lousy deal in my next blog.