Student loan solution

The obsession in this country with college for all has led to one million borrowers who default on their student loans each year (“A universal bailout is the wrong fix for student loans,” New York Post, May 28).  Rather than argue about the various proposals to bail them out, I’d like to suggest another solution.

The reality is that not all students are college material.  They lack the wherewithal to handle college-level work, but they have been brainwashed into believing that without a four-year degree their future is bleak. That’s because the estimated premium attached to the degree is approximately 15 percent.  When they hear this time and again, they do not consider another pathway to a well-paying job.

I’m referring specifically to vocational education.  Students who take vocational courses in high school and combine them with apprenticeships find themselves in demand.  Not only do they earn low six-figure incomes but they have no student debt to pay off.  Nevertheless, vocational education in this country continues to be seen as inferior to an academic education.

I’d like to see average salaries earned by college graduates that are broken down by major.  Then I’d like to see average salaries earned by vocationally-trained graduates also broken down by specialization.  I submit that once student loans are included, the differences would not be nearly as dramatic as believed.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

6 Replies to “Student loan solution”

  1. Of course, as noted in a comment to an earlier post, when students decide to go to college (and/or their parents decide to send them to college), the financial return on the college costs is only one of the factors they are considering.

    Students who opt for voc ed in high school followed by an apprenticeship program rather than college will not enjoy what, for many of them, would be four (or more) years of relatively stress-free happy times with easy access to booze, sex, drugs, friends, late nights, and sleep-in mornings — all very attractive factors for the 18-yr-old brain whose impulse-control is still a work in progress.

    And, from the parents’ viewpoint, there is definitely a social/cultural advantage in the US for people who have a college degree (albeit in an economically useless major) relative to people who have a high school voc ed degree and a journeyman’s trade certificate, notwithstanding the higher income potential of the journeyman’s trade certificate.

    Until US society starts seeing large numbers of middle-class kids (who could have gone to college) opt instead for the voc ed/apprenticeship option, this social/cultural advantage for the college degree holders will continue.

    But, you are completely correct that — from a financial viewpoint — many college-bound high school seniors would be better off (sometimes much better off) going the trade route rather than the college route.

    Finally, there’s something to be said for virtually all high school graduates going away to some kind of college-like experience (at least to a low-cost state or community college) and then making the decision to go the trade route. Society as a whole benefits when young people leave their familiar surroundings for a few years, are exposed to different ideas/ways of doing things, have to spend at least some time thinking about intellectual concepts, and have a chance to grow socially in an atmosphere where everyone else is also growing socially.

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    1. Labor Lawyer: There is a terrible stigma attached to vocational education in this country for reasons I don’t understand. Our competitors abroad treat vocational ed as a true profession and its members are respected. The obsession with a four-year academic degree does more harm than appreciated for too many students.

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  2. I’d like to see a piece written on the availability of vocational schools, where and how much they cost. What jobs are actually waiting?
    I think that would be a useful research piece and could generate a large audience in a national newspaper.
    It might even deserve a book.

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  3. dkhatt: Vocational education in the US has never attained the status it enjoys abroad. There have been many pieces published about vocational education in Germany and in other countries. They all believe in differentiation starting early in the education process; we do not.

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  4. As with many/most education-related govt policy issues, politics rather than cost-benefit analysis controls the decision-making. No elected official wants to tell parents of junior high or even high school students that their children probably are not college material — there is a huge political downside to that and no political upside to that for the elected official. And, because academic ability highly correlates family socio-economic status (SES), the students who are directed towards the non-academic track will be disproportionately lower-SES and disproportionately black/Hispanic — an obvious career-ending move for the elected official.

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  5. Labor Lawyer: Few politicians are willing to tell the truth about education to parents for the reasons you cite. But in the final analysis, they would be doing these parents a great service by pointing out other options rather than a four-year degree.

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