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To go to college, or not to go to college (that is the question)



Years ago, I made a really good investment—and it wasn’t a four-year degree.


Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret going to college, though my fondness for school is more a product of my relationships (20-year friendships, but most importantly, my husband). That’s right, my best investment was in said husband, but not just in saying “I do.” At the less-than-ripe age of 20, this dumb, love-struck and newly-engaged college girl took out her first-ever loan. Before taking out that loan, I had paid for my entire education with scholarships. You see, I came from a family that did not have a disposable income and no money to spare for my bachelor’s degree in journalism, so instead I filled out some 40 scholarship applications my senior year of high school and paid my way through Wazzu. Thankfully, I was a really good BSer, I mean, writer.


The loan I took—that investment that paid off—was for my soon-to-be hubby and lineman hopeful. Here we are 15 years later. My husband, Spanky, works an average of seven months a year and still makes more than the $80,000 average salary estimated for a journeyman lineman by Salary.com during those seven months. All it took was a $7,000 loan, three months of trade school and a three-and-a-half-year apprenticeship (during which my hubby started out at 60 percent journeyman wage and got a pay increase every six months—not too shabby).


All this to say that maybe these four-year degrees aren’t worth their weight in diplomas.


According to NerdWallet, the average debt for a bachelor’s degree among the class of 2019 was approximately $29,000. Not even community college attendees can escape debt with their owed amount upon graduation averaging $13,500 (about $11,000 per student for a public education and $17,000 for a private community college).


And you better pray that your kiddo doesn’t want to go to school for film, at say, Columbia University. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, film graduates of Columbia who took out federal student loans had a median debt of $181,000; not to mention, "two years after earning a master’s degree, half of the borrowers were making less than $30,000 per year.”


Ouch. That’s not a great return on investment if you ask me.


In total, according to The Best Schools website, the average bachelor’s degree costs nearly $130,000 from start to finish. Any guesses on the average trade school cost?


One quarter of that—$33,000.


Of course, the other side is that 87 percent of college graduates found employment in 2020 versus 74 percent without a college degree. Still, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 41 percent of college graduates were “underemployed” in 2020 [i.e. They “have a job that doesn’t put their education, experience or training to work (76 percent), or they are working part-time when they’d rather have a full-time job (24 percent),” according to a report by PayScale.]



Trying to fit a blue peg in a white-collar hole


Is your head spinning yet? Mine, too. I’m a word gal, not a number buff. Let’s forget numbers for a minute and talk personalities. I’m not even going to bring in any stats here, just common sense. What about the kids who were not made to sit behind a desk? You know that kid. That kid was my husband, who I found curled up asleep under a desk at the job he worked just before tapping out of corporate America and applying for Avista Line School. He was restless. He needed to work outside with his hands. He could not be tamed for the 9-to-5 life and I wouldn’t want him to be. He’d be utterly miserable.


I have to believe my nephew may be the same way. The kid runs in circles from sun up to sun down, not even stopping to wipe his sweaty, little brow. Sure, he’s only 3 years old, but I can already see his wheels turn as he watches, well, a wheel turn. He’s so curious and mechanically minded. He wants to know how it all works and he won’t even sit his rear on his balance bike until he’s spun that wheel a few hundred times.


So, why is America forcing children into the white-collar workforce instead of touting the trades? Well, for one, the government is making a killing on loaning outrageous amounts of money to people who so desperately want to be “successful”—and by outrageous, I mean $1.7 trillion dollars (92 percent of student debt). But, we won’t get into all that. Just food for thought.


I’ve dug up all these numbers and figures to say that we have to stop equating a college degree with success and we must encourage the trades, because at the end of the day we need tradesmen and women. We need electricity (it was 110 degrees a couple weeks ago!) and roads and houses and running water. Sure, an engineering degree is valuable, but none of those plans will ever come to fruition without boots on the ground and tools in-hand.



BOOK UPDATE: This week I hit the APPROVE button on the electronic proof of “Light Up the World: I Want to Be a Lineman When I Grow Up.” I’m so excited to share it with you all! I should receive my physical proof in two weeks then hopefully have my first copies in-hand by October. The anticipation is killing me! How about you??

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