Originally published in the San Diego Transcript.
The price of career success doesn’t have to be so high
For decades, one of the universally accepted measures of American success has been earning a college degree. We all know someone who is the first person to go to college in his or her family. We see parents beaming with pride when their son or daughter gets into a prestigious school.
But it was hard to believe the news earlier this month about a wide-ranging college admission scandal. U.S. federal prosecutors charged 50 people including some famous names who were allegedly part of a scheme to buy admission to universities including Ivy League schools and the University of Southern California for their children. Parents paid to cheat college entrance exams, or access college scholarships through faking athletic achievements that never happened. The price ranged from $25,000 to $1.5 million.
Is a college education really worth so much people are willing to become criminals to
make it happen?
I’d like to think of this scandal as a wake-up call for high school graduates and their families. Forget about the outrageous amounts of money spent on bribes. According to U.S. News & World Report’s 2018-2019 annual college survey, the average cost of tuition and fees ranges from $9,716 for state residents at public colleges to $35,676 at private colleges. Multiply this by four years, although many students need five or six years to earn their bachelor’s degree.
For the majority of students, they leave school tens of thousands of dollars in debt. Let’s give serious thought to whether anyone should be saddling themselves with enormous amounts of debt for college degrees with little guarantee of any benefits. There must be a better way – and for many high school graduates, there is.
As a business owner, employer, and an advocate of alternative avenues to success in my role as board chairman of the Associated Builders and Contractors of San Diego, I encourage more people to consider an alternative: apprenticeship training in a vocation such as construction.
Well-meaning educators focus so much on the need for high school graduates to attend college to be successful in life, to the exclusion of any other alternatives. Today, approximately two-thirds of all California high school graduates continue on to a community college, public or private college or university in the U.S.
What happens then? In 2016, just 57 percent of those college students eventually earned a degree, a certificate, or transferred to a four-year college or university after ten years.
For the vast majority who earned a degree in any field other than engineering or computer science, their degree is far from a guarantee of a well-paying job. Some young people never find a job that pays enough to dig out from under this debt, delaying home ownership and even marriage and children.
Let me offer another way: focus more on providing high quality, vocationally focused education after high school.
Professional trades such as construction provide an opportunity to maximize your earning years much earlier than compounded higher education can. It is the one path where someone with enough entrepreneurial spirit can push immediately towards higher-level positions such as CEO or President, or eventual business ownership and success if the desire is there.
According to a Department of Labor study, workers who finish apprenticeships earn an average of $240,000 more in wages over a lifetime than job seekers with similar work experience. In fact, 87 percent of apprentices are employed after completing their programs, with an average starting wage above $50,000.
Apprenticeship supporters are starting to call their programs “the other four-year degree,” and it would be a welcome change if the concept behind this label sticks with high school counselors, school board members, teachers, and parents. Educators should make students and their families aware that there are alternate education paths, and they include apprenticeships.
ABC San Diego is actively reaching out to high schools and veterans organizations, and hosting Career Open Houses at our training facility to encourage more people to consider construction careers. Opportunity is here and waiting for thousands of young Americans. The shortage of qualified construction craft professionals is now estimated to reach 1.6 million people by 2022.
Maybe we finally have the chance as part of our national discusion to overcome long-held stereotypes that a university education is the only route to financial, personal and social success – to the point of taking the risk of serving time in federal prison.
Les DenHerder is President and CEO of HPS Mechanical, Inc., and chairman of the Associated Builders and Contractors San Diego board of directors. For more information visit www.abcsd.org