For years, high school students have been told that getting a college degree is the only way to ensure success as an adult. The pressure to get accepted to college is so great that for some students and parents, the stress of getting into college rivals the stress of actually being in college. For many families, getting their high school senior into college also involves spending quite a bit of money on tutors, college-prep coaches, and enough extra-curricular activities to enhance a college application. Families that simply can’t afford these “extras” often feel like they’ve failed their children, and children who aren’t able to get into a “good” school feel like failures themselves. These feelings of inadequacy can carry over well into adulthood, making it harder for these young people to find happiness and fulfillment. Many who do manage to earn their college degrees leave school with enough debt that the “college experience” lasts well beyond four years. All of this is in addition to the fact that many college graduates find that their degrees don’t always lead to work in their chosen fields. And, of course, there are also those students who simply aren’t cut out for college–students who, despite their diligence and desire simply aren’t able to make the grades necessary to be accepted into a traditional four-year college or university. These young people should not feel like failures before they even make it into adulthood. We all need to realize that a four-year degree is not the only path to a successful and rewarding career.
Many people are so hung up on a traditional four-year degree that they overlook the many advantages that community colleges can offer. Community college admission standards are generally a little lower than universities, making it easier for students who need extra academic help to get a foot in the door. Also, community colleges charge much, much less tuition than four-year schools. Students are often able to live at home, which is another huge cost saver. Most community college credits will transfer readily to a more traditional college or university, making them an excellent place for students with any academic or financial worries to start their higher education. Some community colleges offer complete courses in many fields, making finishing up at a four-year school unnecessary.
Another great alternative for many high school graduates, and even for some who didn’t finish high school, is a career in a skilled trade or craft. Plumbers, welders, electricians, and AC and heating specialists will always be in demand. These jobs don’t require formal college educations. Many of these fields offer on-the-job training through apprenticeship programs, which means you’ll actually get paid to learn instead of having to pay to learn. If you’ve ever had to pay a plumber for an emergency weekend visit, you know they don’t come cheap. Skilled craftsmen like carpenters and construction workers will also always be in demand. Again, skilled craftspeople can get their training on the job. Even though skilled laborers, tradesmen, and craftsmen cannot be replaced by technology and provide invaluable services to the community, their professions are somehow overlooked and/or looked down upon. This is insane. As a nation, we should be spending more time and money encouraging young people to pursue jobs that will forever be essential and can be as financially rewarding as many careers available only to those able to earn four-year degrees, often followed by two or more years of post-graduate studies.
Certainly, there will always be careers that require extended formal education, and those who want and are able to afford this type of schooling should definitely take pride in their achievement, but those who choose an alternate route should never be made to feel like second class citizens. Where would we be if everyone knew how run a Fortune 500 company, but nobody knew how keep the AC going?