President Joe Biden, his appointees and his Democratic surrogates have worked to reassure us that passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill is critical to our post-pandemic recovery, but a crucial part of the law deals with something that tormented our nation long before Covid-19: The college fantasy is for everyone.
A vital part of this bill, as Biden noted in a recent speech, includes creating much-needed jobs in communities across the country. But to fill these jobs, we collectively need to change our psyche and fundamentally change the way we think about the role of education and entry into the workforce. Why? Because many of the jobs supported by the infrastructure bill – jobs in fields like construction, carpentry, and plumbing – don’t require a four-year college degree.
We know that the word “university” is not synonymous with success. So why do we continue to force-feed our children with the false belief that this is the case?
The big question we must answer, then, is: What messages are our children receiving about the value of a college education? Perhaps more importantly: what messages do we send them (parents, teachers and mentors) about their future in the workforce?
If you were to stop a group of students on the street and ask them if a college degree is necessary for a successful career in this country, the answer will likely be yes. Interestingly, how often can depend on the demographics of the group. A recent Washington Post-Ipsos poll found that “minority teens are more likely than white teens to say that getting a college degree is important to them.” While 73 percent and 59 percent of Asian and black teens, respectively, think the cost of higher education is worth the sacrifice, only 55 percent of their white counterparts agree with this sentiment.
What explains this perception gap? The answer might be based in part on myths about income and potential for advancement that have historically surrounded so-called commercial jobs. Students who were labeled as unrelated to college – disproportionately underserved students and students of color – were denied placement in advanced classes or put on the path to vocational education ; a trail marred by lies about students’ abilities or learning abilities that cast shadows and doubts on their current and future prospects, professional and otherwise.
But as a nation, we are now reaping the unfortunate results of this flawed narrative. For example, a 2018 report from Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute indicated that we are on track to see more than 2 million unfilled manufacturing jobs by 2028 and other vacancies from new cols (jobs are focusing on a specific set of skills not necessarily acquired through traditional college education) that require specialist training or certifications, but do not require a four-year degree. These types of positions remain vacant even though the majority of Americans do not have a college degree. This calculation just doesn’t match.
At the same time, math in college doesn’t always add up either. The average person today has $ 30,000 in debt after graduating. And for many black and African American college graduates, that number can reach as high as $ 50,000, according to EducationData.org, a research site that analyzes data on the American education system.
It’s no surprise that this kind of burden causes many high school students to choose colleges with lower price tags. But even at colleges with lower tuition fees, students can still end up with hard-to-repay loans if they can’t find a job with a salary that matches what they owe. On the flip side, most training and certification programs for new collar positions cost a fraction of the price of a four-year degree and require much less time. For example, maintenance technician positions – which only require a high school diploma or associate-level courses – offer on-the-job training.
College isn’t the only way to avoid a minimum wage job.
Now, that doesn’t mean that college is the wrong choice for everyone or that it doesn’t lead to better wages and more job security in many cases. But college isn’t the only way to avoid a minimum-wage job, and the message that this often means many young people spend four years or more racking up debt to be excluded from jobs suited to their degree. . Instead, many of them could get certified much faster, which could help fill vital jobs in our ever-changing economy.
While it is true that the pandemic and the widely reported “big resignation” have contributed to our country’s skills shortage challenges, our country has been heading in this direction for decades.
Biden put it this way during a speech after the bill was passed by the House: “Somewhere along the way, we stopped investing in ourselves. We have stopped investing in our people. And we risked losing our advantage as a nation.
No matter which side of the political aisle you are on, I think most of us can agree with this statement. While the jobs supported in the infrastructure plan are a solid step in the right direction, only the continued bipartisan efforts to support more professional learning programs for students and workforce development initiatives for adults will help our country adequately address the skills gap.
Our country’s underinvestment in vocational apprenticeship programs for high school students, our dismal disregard for workforce development opportunities, and the lack of high quality corporate training programs at the corporate level. business harm not only our children, but the economy as well.
Simply put, we have to start living in reality. The truth is, college isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. The truth is, many students can’t or won’t take out thousands of dollars in college loans, and that’s okay too. We know that the word “university” is not synonymous with success. So why do we continue to force-feed our children with the false belief that this is the case?
CORRECTION (November 28, 2021, 11:06 a.m.ET): A previous version of this article inaccurate the expected date of a discovery in a 2018 report from Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute. The report predicted that there would be more than 2 million unfilled manufacturing jobs by 2028, not 2025.