College degree premium is nuanced

Although it is true that the median college graduate earns more than the median high school graduate, the reality is not nearly as black and white as it appears (“The Misguided Priorities of Our Educational System,” The New York Times, Dec. 10).  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, high school graduates with above-average earnings earn $34,000 to $70,000 annually.  That compares with college graduates with below-average earnings of between$28,000 to $58,000.

This wage spread is given little attention.  But it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.  I’ve seen many of my former students who never went to college but who have a trade make far more money annually than my former students who went to college and majored in a non-STEM field.  Moreover, the former group has no college loan to repay.  That’s no small thing when rentals continue to rise, leaving little disposable income at the end of every month.

I’ve written often before about the need to give vocational education far more respect and support.  Not all young people have the desire or ability to go to college.  To see them drop out after having assumed so much debt is sad.  Let’s get real about the premium attached to a college degree.  Much depends on the major and the college itself.

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2 Replies to “College degree premium is nuanced”

  1. In the Washington, DC suburbs, it is very difficult to find a competent, reliable skilled tradesperson (plumber, carpenter, electrician, HVAC, painter, tree service). Homeowners pay a lot per hour for this work. Not clear how much $ ends up in the pocket of the tradesperson and how much in the pocket of the owner of the firm. Seems clear that there is a major shortage of skilled tradespersons. I attribute this, as I expect you do, to the decades-long emphasis on high school students getting college degrees rather than vocational skills. I also blame the demise of craft unions that previously ran excellent apprenticeship programs and then ensured years of well-paid work for the graduates of the apprenticeship programs.

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  2. Labor Lawyer: Only in this country is vocational education given such low regard. Yet, as you correctly point out, there is a severe shortage of skilled tradesmen. The WSJ reported that welders now earn up to $100,000 annually. Compare that with salaries for a B.A. – not to mention the cost of paying back student loans.

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