Examining the college debate

Ian Pigors, Staff Writer

Has anyone ever asked you “What do you plan to do after High school?” or “What do you want to do for a career?” These are considered some of the most important questions a young person has to answer in their life. Essentially, you are dictating your own future: What you will do eight hours a day, five days a week, for fifty weeks a year (give or take), and how much money you will make in your life. It’s all on you to decide, right now… right? There’s been a lot of debate circulating about whether or not college is worth it, but let’s look a little further at this question and examine whether it has merit or not.


Firstly, one of the big arguments individuals opposed to college education make is that trades careers are just as good of an alternative. Let’s define “trades” first and foremost. A “trades” career is an occupation revolving around doing manual labor in order to accomplish a blue collar task typically in the scope of construction, manufacturing, or maintenance.


A few careers often brought to the forefront for this cluster are electricians, plumbers, and welders. One of the main arguments for choosing these careers is that you can make just as much as a college grad without nearly as much debt. While this can be true in some instances, it is misleading.


For example, Plumbers make $56,330 per year, Electricians make $56,900 a year, and Welders make $44,190 per year, all according to the BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics). While these are certainly respectable wages and over the average wage of all occupations, the average college grad of a four-year bachelor’s degree makes $55,260 right after graduating according to National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). Depending on the degree awarded, some can average well over $100,000+ in mid career pay. 


It’s important to note that the figures for the trades occupations are accounting for all levels of experience. Not only are the narratives about pay slightly misleading, but it’s important to examine the nature of trades jobs. The physically demanding nature of these jobs isn’t for everybody. Some individuals, typically those with mechanical aptitude and those who enjoy physical, grunt work and labor are more likely to enjoy the career than others, and that’s an important factor to consider before examining a trades career. 


Now let’s look at the other side of the coin, why college might not be as worth it as one might think. Many have heard the old adage that “Going to college is the ticket to success in America.” While this is true in most cases, there are a lot more ways than one might think than going to a traditional four-year college or university, and most importantly, jobs that fit one’s personality and what they would enjoy in a career that doesn’t require college. 


Not everyone can afford to take on the debt and/or don’t feel they’re academically capable of completing the rigorous and expensive commitment involved with going to college. We just looked at trades careers, and while I was making the argument that they aren’t as sure of a choice as you may think, if you have an aptitude for physical work and grunt labor and like figuring out how things work, a trades career could be perfect for you. Tradesmen make respectable wages, and many go on to start their own construction or manufacturing companies.


If you are extroverted and like working with and persuading people, many sales careers don’t require a college degree. Real Estate Agents, for example, require no additional education to get started, and make $51,320 on average according to the BLS. Remember, this is only an average, and top Real Estate Agents can make well over $100,000 annually. 


Another career choice that many don’t talk about because it is often associated with getting a college degree is a career in Information Technology. While going to college might make job prospects slightly better, many have taught themselves coding on their own and/or attended low cost coding boot camps that teach all the code that could be learned in college. 


The opportunity exists for Web Developers, who make $69,500 a year on average according to Glassdoor, and it is certainly possible to become a Software Developer ($87,500 a year per Glassdoor) without an IT related degree. The opportunity exists for individuals interested in this field if they want to learn without taking on such a debt burden. 


While there are many careers out there to consider, it’s important for you to find what is the best fit for you. Sit down, write a list of your strengths and weaknesses, and then write a list of the things you enjoy doing. Finding that balance between what you enjoy and a skill you can make money doing is paramount. 


Whether or not this niche requires college or not, I wanted to take the time and lay out the options. If you want to go to college because that’s what you need to pursue the field you want, then pursuing a college degree is the right decision regardless of what anyone thinks about the financial trade off of a trades career. 


If you want to pursue a trades career, don’t worry about the old adage that college is “a necessity” to be successful. There isn’t a right or wrong answer. It depends on you, the individual, and what fits you.