We hear it said over and over that every child should have a college education. We believe this means is that every child should have the opportunity to get a college education but not that every child should actually get one. Children are no more alike than trees in a forest. Each has its own interests, abilities, goals and skills. In many cases this will mean they should, in fact, get a college education. But this isn’t true for everyone. One recent survey revealed that nearly 50% of those that began college failed to graduate. These students likely learned that college just wasn’t a good fit for them and had probably run up thousands of dollars in student loan debts before figuring this out.
The alternative – get a skill
For some children a better alternative than getting stuck on the idea they need a college degree is to determine what they really enjoy doing and if this aligns with a trade such as being an electrician, a plumber or auto mechanic. These trades pay very well, offer a high degree of job security and can be very satisfying for those that enjoy working with their hands and seeing tangible results for their efforts.
Four-year college vs. a trade school
On the average, it costs about $33,000 to get a degree from a trade school vs. the average $127,000 cost of a bachelor’s degree. But the differences don’t end there. It usually takes at least four years to get a bachelor’s degree vs. the one or two years required to get a trade school education. For many young people this would mean spending a lot less
What exactly is a trade school?
A trade or school is just that – a technical school or vocational school that teaches skills related to specific jobs. It focuses on getting students prepared for specific careers instead of teaching liberal arts, business or economics. The careers these schools focus on include jobs such as machinist, welder, electrician, mechanic, truck driver and plumber.
Not much of a difference in earnings
Believe it or not, there’s not much of a drop-off between salaries for those with a four-year degree when compared with those that went to a trade school. Trade school graduates earn an average of $42,000 a year. If you figure a 30-year career, the difference between this and those that got a four-year college degree is only about $90,000. In addition, trade school grad began working two years earlier than college graduates, which means two more years of income. At $42,000 a year, this adds $84,000 to the trade school graduates lifetime earnings so that at age 52, the typical college grad will have earned only about $6000 more.
The difference in student loans
Another important difference is the cost of financing a four-year college education vs. a trade school. If we assume that students finance their schooling with loans at an interest rate of 4% over 10 years, a bachelor’s degree will actually cost $154,000. On the other hand, a trade school education will cost only an average of $40,000, which means a savings of more than $100,000 just on the degree alone.
It’s tough to export plumbing jobs
A third benefit of going to a trade school is that the jobs your child would get as a result are very difficult to send to another country. It’s relatively easy to export jobs such as information technology or database engineering to somewhere else. But it’s much more difficult to export jobs that involve plumbing, electrical work, welding and the like.
Make sure you’re being realistic
Both you and your child need to be realistic about college. The harsh reality is that college isn’t for everyone. We have a grandson that never did exceptionally well in high school not because he wasn’t smart but because school simply didn’t interest him. When he graduated he chose to go to a trade school where he could learn automotive bodywork instead of going to college. He loves cars, is happy in his career and has received three promotions in the past two years. He is earning such good money that he and his partner have just bought a wonderful new home.
You can’t make it drink
You’ve undoubtedly heard the old adage that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. In this case you could lead a child to choosing a trade school but you can’t force him or her to make that choice. But if you’re being realistic and you believe that, for whatever reason, your child just isn’t cut out to go to a four-year college, you can at least find ways to encourage him or her to choose a trade. Failing that, you might insist that he or she goes to a two-year community college where they could earn first- and second-year credits and then transfer to either your state’s university or some other college. Do this and your child might learn that a four-year college education just wasn’t a great choice and that learning a trade might be a better option. But even if your child goes on to a four-year college you will have at least helped him or her spend less on their education, which translates into graduating with less student debt.
If you’re wondering how much an electrician, plumber, welder or auto body repair person earns, the median hourly wage is $25.75 for an electrician, which translates into a median annual wage of $50,510. The median annual salary for a plumber was a bit less at $49,140 (in 2012) but the best of them earned $84.480. Auto body repairers have a median hourly salary of $18.66 or $38,800 a year, which is right below that of computer operators. And welders, cutters and braziers have a median hourly income of $17.66 or $36,700 a year. In comparison, a social worker with a four-year degree in sociology has a median annual salary of $47,121. A person with a fine arts degree – that is able to find a job as, say, a museum research worker – will have an annual median salary of just $48,401. If he or she becomes a painter/illustrator, their annual median salary will be $37,819. And if your son or daughter becomes an elementary school teacher, he or she will be looking at a median annual salary of $52,241. To put this another way, your son or daughter might be much better off becoming an auto bodywork repairer or an electrician than a social worker and definitely much better off than being a preschool teacher.
Some parents might not want to encourage their children to go to a trade school, as they would feel embarrassed when their friends’ children go off to a four-year college. But there is really nothing shameful about going to a trade school. Our society would be a far worse place without electricians, plumbers and auto body repairers. These people perform very needed services. It’s what used to be called a good, honest living before we bought into the idea that everyone should go to college. Skilled workers are generally honest, hard-working and dependable people and should be admired for their work instead of being looked down on because they didn’t graduate from a four-year college.