It’s no secret that college tuition has steadily risen in the United States over the past few decades. In fact, the cost of attending college has increased by 213% since 1988. Yet, surprisingly, the number of high school graduates going directly to college is rising as well. However, this is creating a growing issue in the US—the Skills Gap. Less and less Americans are pursuing careers in the skilled-trade industry, creating a gap in the labor force and slowing production.
Now, we’re not suggesting that it is necessarily bad that more students are attending college or that college costs are rising without good reason. What we’d like to address is that, with the continuously rising cost of college tuition, a career in the skilled-trade industry is full of opportunity and equally as beneficial. Today, there seems to be a stigma that you have to have a four-year college degree to achieve success, which is clearly not true. In fact, with the high demand for trade workers today, many entry-level skilled-trade jobs have higher pay and better benefits than a college graduate would receive.
Why does college tuition continue to rise?
Again, the average cost of college tuition has increased by 213% since 1988, increasing by 26% just between 2008 and 2018. So, why does tuition keep rising? It is not because the universities are just trying to make a larger profit—at least not entirely. Here are a few notable reasons why universities continue to raise their tuition.
Enrollment is at an all-time high
Today, there seems to be more pressure than ever for students to go to college. Most professional options require a bachelor’s degree and, if job seekers don’t have one, employers might not even look at their resume. This can create a “fear of failure” stigma, implying that if students don’t go to a four-year college, they can’t be successful. As a result, colleges are seeing more and more students each year, which increases the costs of running a university.
The 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act ensures that all who are able and willing to attend a four-year university will be granted federal student financial aid. With that, everyone can now pay for college with federally granted financial aid. This aid takes the form of scholarships, grants, and student loans. Universities are well aware of this and make every effort to benefit from the available funds.
State funding can’t keep up
Most four-year universities receive some type of financial support from their state. However, with the increasing number of students each year, there is a higher demand for more aid and states simply can’t keep up. This is likely due to the fact that most states require historical data to provide funds and, since the numbers continue to increase each year, the data is skewed.
More staff and faculty
With the number of students increasing each year, universities are continuously hiring more staff and faculty members to provide a proper learning environment and educational process. Top tier colleges generally boast about having a low student to faculty ratio and, with an increasing number of students each year, they need more faculty. That alone is a significant expense with the average salary of a full-time professor being $60,064.
Are trade jobs a better option than attending a four-year college?
There is not a clear-cut yes or no answer to this question. Each student’s path is unique, depending on their desired career, access to funds, and many other factors. However, below are a few reasons why choosing a career in a skilled-trade industry is beneficial and a wise investment.
- Higher entry-level wage: Most skilled-trade jobs start between $40-$80K per year, depending on the industry. Currently, the average entry-level salary of a college graduate is $50,390, which is comparable to the skilled-trade industry. However, the average debt of college graduates is $37,172—so, the amount of debt students have upon graduation will impact their return on investment.
- The average cost of trade school: The average cost of trade school ranges from $1K-$15K per year, while the cost of a bachelor’s degree ranges from $20K-$50K per year. So, for a fraction of the cost and a quarter of the time, skilled-trade workers have the skills, knowledge, experience, and certifications (if applicable) that give them a higher paying entry-level job. Better yet, with the lack of interest in trade work, there are plenty of grants available and employers who will pay future workers to attend trade school. In addition, there are a plethora of high school programs that give young students a head-start and free hands-on training.
- Perkins Career and Technical Education Act: In July of 2018, President Trump signed the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act into law. This law focuses on increasing the access to high-quality Career Technical Education (CTE) programs for you Americans. Ultimately, this provides young students with more incentives, funding, and access to Technical Education, giving them more opportunity at a young age. With that, high school students can be on their way to a high paying career before they even graduate. Learn more about Career and Technical Post-Secondary Training with one of the latest podcasts from NBS.
- Apprenticeships—earn while you learn: With the demand for skilled-trade workers continuously rising and the increased availability of funding for Technical Education, apprenticeship opportunities are surging in the US. With that, workers can learn a new skill like welding or electrical installation while earning a respectable wage, too. Essentially, workers are paid to learn and grow professionally. More importantly, apprenticeships allow workers to grow and establish themselves with a company, so they are not starting flat-footed once they finish their training.
Again, there really is no right or wrong answer for making the decision to learn a trade or go to college. Both have tremendous benefits and opportunity. In either situation, students and workers must be determined and willing to learn.
The best advice we can give at NBS is to do your research. Sit down and actually do the math. Assess how much you will be able to pay out of pocket for college, how much financial aid you will receive, and how much debt you will have when you graduate. Additionally, determine what type of career will make you happy before you go. Too often, students are pushed to attend a four-year university without having any idea of what career path will make them happy. Also, research what type of trade jobs are available and in demand. Most will be surprised at the jobs that are available with a certification and the opportunities that surround them.
If you’re discovering that attending college is going to leave you in more debt than you want, that you like working with your hands, or that your high school offers early Technical Education, you may want to consider learning a trade. If you’re curious about the opportunities of skilled-trade job, contact us today!