Why ‘College Or Bust’ Is the Wrong Message for High School Graduates

“Middle jobs” provide decent salaries with some additional training beyond high school, without the time or financial commitment of a bachelor’s degree.

Students participating in Pacific Gas and Electric's (PG&E) PowerPathway Pole Climbing Capstone course climb utility poles at the PG&E pole climbing training facility on June 8, 2012 in Oakland, California. The free three-week course teaches skills to better prepare individuals to compete for jobs such as pre-apprentice lineworker within the utility industry.
National Journal
Nancy Cook
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Nancy Cook
May 15, 2014, 7:20 a.m.

More than 3 mil­lion teen­agers are ex­pec­ted to gradu­ate from high school over the next six weeks. For most of them, their choices are stark: Either find a job or enter col­lege.

But there’s no reas­on for stu­dents to view their ca­reer paths in such ex­tremes as work­ing at Mc­Don­ald’s or at­tend­ing Har­vard, says An­thony Carne­vale, dir­ect­or and re­search pro­fess­or at the Geor­getown Uni­versity Cen­ter on Edu­ca­tion and the Work­force. Every year, the U.S. eco­nomy of­fers roughly 29 mil­lion “middle jobs,” as Carne­vale calls them: po­s­i­tions that de­mand some ad­di­tion­al school­ing or cer­ti­fic­a­tion bey­ond the 12th grade, but not the time or fin­an­cial com­mit­ment of a bach­el­or’s de­gree.

These jobs are in in­dus­tries as di­verse as health care, in­form­a­tion tech­no­logy, the arts, sales, food ser­vice, man­age­ment, and skilled man­u­fac­tur­ing. Middle jobs pay an av­er­age of $35,000, al­though more than 11 mil­lion of them provide a salary of $50,000 or more an­nu­ally, ac­cord­ing to re­search by the Cen­ter on Edu­ca­tion and the Work­force. (The Census Bur­eau lists the cur­rent me­di­an salary in the U.S. at $51,017.)

Most im­port­ant, these jobs of­fer non-col­lege-bound kids the chance of a de­cent eco­nom­ic life. That’s a par­tic­u­larly im­port­ant caveat, be­cause those with just a high-school dip­loma in­creas­ingly find them­selves stuck in dead-end jobs and shut out of the middle class. “What we’re miss­ing now is an al­tern­at­ive path­way for people who don’t go to col­lege,” Carne­vale says. “We know that ap­plied cur­riculums work bet­ter, not just for less-pre­pared stu­dents but for every­one.”

Carne­vale and his team of re­search­ers have iden­ti­fied five ways to pre­pare today’s high school gradu­ates for these middle jobs:

  • More ap­pren­tice­ships. Cur­rently just 0.3 per­cent of em­ploy­ment in the U.S. comes from ap­pren­tice­ships. Yet pro­grams in states such as Wis­con­sin have demon­strated the be­ne­fits of this type of learn­ing, par­tic­u­larly for stu­dents in­ter­ested in high-skilled jobs in man­u­fac­tur­ing, trans­port­a­tion, or con­struc­tion.
  • Em­ploy­er-based train­ing. This es­sen­tially means that work­ers learn skills on the job, with train­ing that lasts any­where from three months to a year. It does not cost the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment any ex­tra money, be­cause the fin­an­cial bur­den falls on em­ploy­ers. One-third of all blue-col­lar jobs and one-quarter of sci­ence, tech­no­logy, en­gin­eer­ing, and math jobs re­quire more than one year of this type of train­ing.
  • In­dustry-based cer­ti­fic­a­tions. Want to be­come an EMT, li­censed nurse prac­ti­tion­er, or cer­ti­fied nurs­ing as­sist­ant? All of these jobs in the grow­ing field of health care re­quire in­dustry-based cer­ti­fic­ates. And de­mand for these cer­ti­fic­a­tions comes from the private sec­tor and the labor mar­ket in­stead of law­makers; this means that em­ploy­ers see the need in the com­ing years for work­ers with these skills.
  • Post-high school cer­ti­fic­a­tions. These cer­ti­fic­ates pre­pare stu­dents for a spe­cif­ic ca­reer niche without tak­ing as much time to com­plete as a col­lege de­gree. Jobs that re­quire this cer­ti­fic­a­tion in­clude auto mech­an­ics, com­puter and in­form­a­tion ser­vices, cer­tain health care po­s­i­tions, or cos­met­o­logy. The best-case scen­ario is that men with these cer­ti­fic­ates can earn as much as $72,000 an­nu­ally, provided they work in com­puter or in­form­a­tion ser­vices.
  • As­so­ci­ate’s de­grees. These de­grees of­fer a nice boost in earn­ings for high-school dip­loma hold­ers and usu­ally take half the time of a bach­el­or’s de­gree. Men with as­so­ci­ate de­grees, who spe­cial­ize in a spe­cif­ic oc­cu­pa­tion earn $49,000 an­nu­ally, com­pared with male high school grads (who earn $41,000), ac­cord­ing to the Geor­getown re­search­ers’ ana­lys­is of census data. Re­gistered nurses, po­lice of­ficers, and man­agers get the biggest salary boosts from these as­so­ci­ate’s de­grees.

The big takeaway: The main mes­sage from U.S. poli­cy­makers and lead­ers con­tin­ues to be that col­lege edu­ca­tion is the key to a middle-class life­style. Yet many work­ers could find de­cent jobs that can sup­port a fam­ily, with less school­ing and less stu­dent debt. They could be­ne­fit from these oth­er means of train­ing after high school — and from in­creased at­ten­tion to and pro­mo­tion of this al­tern­ate ca­reer track.

What We're Following See More »
BUT IS HE A YES VOTE?
Cornyn Attempting to Get McCain Back for Health Vote
1 hours ago
THE LATEST
“TIME HAD RUN OUT” FOR ILL BABY
Charlie Gard’s Parents End Legal Fight
2 hours ago
THE LATEST

"A lawyer representing Chris Gard and Connie Yates told the High Court 'time had run out' for the baby. Mr. Gard said it meant his 'sweet, gorgeous, innocent little boy' will not reach his first birthday on 4 August. 'To let our beautiful little Charlie go' is 'the hardest thing we'll ever have to do,' his mother said. Charlie's parents said they made the decision because a US doctor had told them it was now too late to give Charlie nucleoside therapy.

Source:
AGENCY SOUGHT TO DELAY IMPLEMENTATION
11 States Sue EPA Over Chemical Rule
2 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"Eleven states have sued the Environmental Protection Agency over its June decision to delay implementation of a chemical safety rule" until 2019. "The state attorneys general, led by New York’s Eric Schneiderman (D), argue the rule is important for 'protecting our workers, first-responders and communities from chemical accidents' and should be allowed to take affect as planned by the Obama administration’s EPA.

Source:
ULTIMATUM ON ACA
Trump: You’re With Us Or Against Us
2 hours ago
THE LATEST
$1.6 BILLION SET ASIDE FOR WALL
House Freedom Caucus Chair: Shutdown Over Wall Funding Unlikely
3 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) on Monday said that funding for President Trump's controversial border wall is unlikely to cause a government shutdown. 'The odds of a government shutdown are very minimal when it comes to that,' the conservative lawmaker said at an event in Washington, D.C. 'I do think the funding of the border wall will happen,' he added. Appropriators have set aside $1.6 billion to fund new wall and fencing sections on parts of the U.S.-Mexico border covering a few dozen miles."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login