Non-college grad future is hardly bleak

Repeating something often enough does not make it true.  I have reference now to the assertion that lack of a four-year college degree means a lifetime of low earnings (“Jobs for the working class: Raising earnings among non-college graduates,” Brookings, Apr. 23). I’ve yet to see a study that compares salaries broken down by college major with those broken down by vocational specialization.

Students who receive a bachelor’s degree in the humanities, for example, find no labor market reward compared to students who complete a vocational curriculum concurrent with an apprenticeship. Not only are the latter immediately employed, but they are not burdened by onerous debt.  Yet we persist in the fiction that some associate degrees and certificates are not as marketable as bachelor degrees. It’s a myth.

I’m not saying that the value of a college degree should be measured solely by what its holders earn.  There are indeed other benefits.  But going to a four-year college or university today costs a small fortune.  No one is going to believe this, but when I was an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania in the late 1950s, tuition for the full academic year was $800, which could be paid in two equal installments.  There was also a general fee of $135, which provided for services not covered by the tuition.  It too was payable in two equal installments when tuition was due.  The cost of 400-page required textbooks rarely exceeded  $11.

It’s unlikely that costs will diminish in the years ahead, as so many more people buy into the college mania.  By the time graduates pay off their student loans, however, they might wish they had learned a trade instead.

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