Column: High schools should stop pushing college as a universal solution

Despite looming trade labor shortages, high schools focus on college. Is it time to rethink higher education?
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Bryce Kolk is a freshman journalism major at MU. He is an opinion columnist who writes about politics for The Maneater.

College isn’t for everyone. Some don’t enjoy sitting in classrooms. Others worry about strapping their future with crushing debt. Valid concerns can persuade someone to choose another path, but we ignore those concerns. High schools have pushed college as a one-size-fits-all solution to educational needs without accounting for those with other interests.

Trade school, not college, is a more realistic next step for many young adults. College is prohibitively expensive for many, while trade school offers students an outlet to work with their hands. While college is great for many, taking vocational classes could be the key to social mobility.

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but college is expensive.

The price of the average bachelor’s degree is $127,000. That’s ludicrous. While college graduates are paying the price of a family home for their education, trade school graduates pay significantly less at just $33,000.

The average trade school degree is less than a third the cost of the average bachelor’s degree. Trade school also offers a better return on investment. For every $1 spent on education, the average trade school graduate makes $12 later in life. The average college graduate only makes $9 for every $1 spent.

Related is the topic of debt. Student debt is a full-blown crisis. Between ballooning tuition and sky-high interest rates, students and graduates are bearing tremendous financial hardships.

Trade school graduates, however, have had better luck surviving the crisis. The average trade school graduate carries $10,000 in debt after graduation. The average college graduate carries $29,000 in debt after graduation. After interest, that rises to $36,327. Put into perspective, the average college graduate is carrying a debt larger than the entire cost of a trade school degree.

A large reason trade school is so much cheaper than college is the length of the program.

Most trade school programs last two years. Most bachelor’s degree are four year programs. however, a minority of students at public universities, 19 percent, actually graduated in 4 years. For flagship universities such as MU, that number rises to a still paltry 36 percent.

Trade school graduates get into the workforce much faster than college graduates. In those two or three years, they can work to earn a paycheck and lower their student debt. Meanwhile, college students will still be accruing more debt.

Still to be mentioned are those who don’t graduate. Almost half, 41 percent, of first time college students don’t graduate from their school within six years, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics..

Dropping such a pretty penny on college is only worth it if that investment pays off. One risks a lot of money on the possibility of them not graduating. That risk is much smaller for trade schools because they are so much cheaper.

The job market is also ripe for trade school graduates. There are more jobs in specialized trade professions than there are people to fill them. The market is much different for college graduates. 46 percent of recent college graduates are working jobs that don’t even require a degree.

Salaries after graduation aren’t too far off between college and trade school graduates. The average entry level salary of a trade school graduate is about $35,000, while the entry level college graduate makes about $46,000. While there is a significant difference in income, the costs and debts associated with college muddy the waters on value.

College is a better long term investment, while trade school is a relatively immediate ride to a middle class income. College graduates make more, but also pay much more. There is no solution for everyone.

For those who place a premium on higher education and enjoy classroom learning, college may be the answer. However, we neglect a significant amount of people when high schools profess colleges as the only way forward. Many enjoy working with their hands and prefer hands-on learning styles. For them, trade school is a viable option.

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