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 »
“CHAIR WITH ONLY ONE FULL TIME COMMITMENT”
Rep. Ellison Confirms He Will Quit Congress If Elected DNC Chair
2 minutes ago
THE LATEST

Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison is currently the favorite to become the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and he has confirmed that if he is elected come February, he will resign his seat in Congress. In a statement from Ellison this morning, he says that the Democratic Party needs "a chair with only one full time commitment."

TO BE ANNOUNCED IN COMING DAYS
Trump To Nominate Gen. John Kelly For Homeland Security
39 minutes ago
THE LATEST

Donald Trump has chosen Gen. James Kelly to be his secretary of homeland security, making Kelly the third general tapped by Trump to serve in his administration. The official announcement is likely to come in the next couple of days. Kelly, who did not endorse Trump during the campaign, "was the commander of U.S. Southern Command until earlier this year."

Source:
2018 WATCH
Iowa Gov. Branstad Nominated For Ambassador To China
1 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Iowa Republican Terry Branstad, the longest-serving governor in American history, has accepted President-elect Donald Trump's offer to serve as ambassador to China, Bloomberg reported late Tuesday. Branstad has a longstanding relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping and backed Trump during the election. If he's confirmed, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds would become the Hawkeye State's first female governor and could run for a full term in 2018. Iowa does not place term limits on its governors.

NO SURPRISE HERE
Trump Is TIME’s Person of the Year
1 hours ago
THE DETAILS
INCLUDES WAIVER FOR MATTIS
Congress Releases Stopgap Funding Bill
3 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"Congressional negotiators released a stopgap spending bill Tuesday night to avert a partial government shutdown at midnight Friday and to fund federal agencies and programs through April 28." The 70-page continuing resolution includes $170 million to aid Flint, Michigan's water supply, and a waiver that would allow Ret. Gen. James Mattis to assume the role of secretary of Defense.

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