Country Living Series

Sunday, May 6, 2018

College: Now a 'threat to the economy?'

Here's my WND column for this weekend originally entitled "College: Now a 'threat to the economy'?"


For those unable to access the WND website, the text is copied below.



College: Now a 'Threat to the Economy'?

For a long time now, I’ve been harping about how overvalued college has become at the expense of young people entering skilled trades. Students are told a degree is necessary for success, for higher paychecks throughout life, and for greater financial security during retirement. If the amount of hate mail I get whenever I touch on this issue is any indication, it’s a surprisingly hot-button topic.

Many people on the left side of the spectrum tend to dismiss my opinion as biased and unfair. In their eyes, I’m trying to tear down their beloved institutions in which bright young students can receive degrees in agenda-driven victimhood and activism. Yet no one seems to think skilled blue-collar trade careers are worth investigating. Those jobs are for losers, man.

Though I freely admit believing the vast majority of non-STEM liberal arts degrees are useless at best and detrimental at worst, now I have a powerful progressive voice backing me up. No less a liberal luminary than National Public Radio also laments the dearth of good people entering the trades.

In a blunt article entitled “High-paying trade jobs sit empty, while high school grads line up for university,” NPR starts by profiling a young man named Garrett Morgan. “All through my life it was, ‘if you don't go to college you're going to end up on the streets,” Morgan said. “Everybody's so gung-ho about going to college.”

Morgan tried college and didn’t like it. Risking the threat of being “on the streets,” he started training as an ironworker. “Seattle is a forest of construction cranes,” noted NPR, “and employers are clamoring for skilled ironworkers. Morgan, who is 20, is already working on a job site when he isn't at the Pacific Northwest Ironworkers shop. He gets benefits, including a pension, from employers at the job sites where he is training. And he is earning $28.36 an hour, or more than $50,000 a year, which is almost certain to steadily increase. As for his friends from high school, ‘they're still in college,’ he said with a wry grin. ‘Someday maybe they'll make as much as me.’”

Consider these two scenarios:

John Smith goes to college and studies History with a minor in English. During his four years in school, he acquires $30,000 in student loan debt. Upon graduation, he is dismayed to find the only employers hiring History/English majors are Starbucks or Motel 6, so he decides to pursue a graduate degree with an eye toward teaching at a college level. He spends another three years in a Ph.D. program and emerges by age 25 with a doctorate and another $30,000 in debt. He is lucky and lands a position as a professor at a college. Now he can start building his financial portfolio, right after he pays off the $60,000 he spent on his education.

Charles Jones decided to skip college and become a mechanic. At 18, he apprenticed himself and began learning about engines and machinery. By age 25, he owns his own garage with a waiting list for his services. By age 40, just as John Smith finally pays off his student loans, Charles is able to pay off his house, invest heavily for his retirement, and cut back to a three-day workweek.

Who has done better in life? Sure, John Smith can brag that he has a Ph.D., but it’s Charles Jones who had the smarts to know the ticket to success. (Incidentally, Charles Jones is based on someone we know. I didn’t make him up.) And what has John Smith accomplished? He’s now in a position to teach others how to be unemployable.

The one thing liberal arts majors are completely missing is the law of supply and demand. Before spending many years and thousands of dollars obtaining a degree, make sure there is a suitable market for that degree in the first place. This is the sad reason so many graduates can’t find jobs commensurate with their education, and why Starbucks probably has the most highly educated staff in the nation.

But liberal arts degrees are often worse than just useless. “High school graduates have been so effectively encouraged to get a bachelor's that high-paid jobs requiring shorter and less expensive training are going unfilled,” notes NPR. “This affects those students and also poses a real threat to the economy.” [Emphasis added.]

Read that again: A shortage of skilled workers is “posing a real threat to the economy.” Whoa.

Curious to learn more about the deficiency in skilled labor, I reached out to an institution called American College of the Building Arts in South Carolina, the nation’s only four-year college dedicated to traditional trades such as masonry, architectural stone work, plasterwork, ironwork, timber framing, etc. I learned some very interesting stuff.

An ACBA representative, Leigh Handal, told me: “Hurricane Hugo, a Category 4 storm, caused extensive damage to many architecturally and historically significant properties in Charleston in 1989. As local property owners sought highly skilled artisans to repair and restore these important residences and public buildings, it became clear the last generation of highly skilled artisans in America was quickly dying out. The emphasis in contemporary building trends is to do things quick and cheap, in a mass-production type of process. Some Charlestonians had to go all the way to Europe to find traditionally skilled artisans in such specialties as forged iron, timber framing and architectural carpentry, and the trowel trades such as plaster, stone and masonry. A group of these historic property owners recognized the need to provide training that would keep the traditional building arts alive in America in order to preserve our nation's architectural treasures.”

Additionally, she said: “Nearly all of ACBA's graduates are employed within their trade within three months of graduation. They're not just employed, they are employed in the field for which they trained.”

Other smaller organizations such as the Sustainable Heroes Project teach earth-friendly building techniques such as cob and straw-bale construction, built for and by veterans as rehabilitative training and education.

The resources are out there, folks. Unless you’re studying a STEM subject, don’t become a threat to the national economy; be a contributor. We need people whose passion and vocation is to build up.

Not tear down.

24 comments:

  1. Earth to all helpless liberal arts dissidents: Unclog your own damn toilets. I’m sure you can find an app for it.

    Dock Guy

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    Replies
    1. Got a real chuckle out of that one

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    2. I majored in history and I can unclog my own toilets just fine. It's not rocket science.

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    3. I majored in English, and can unclog my own toilet about 75% of the time.

      Of course, I didn't learn it in class. I learned it in the 30 year old trailer we lived in while going to school.

      On the whole, I think society would survive A LOT longer without English majors than it would without plumbers...

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  2. There is also no reason to go into 60k in student loan debt. My son is going for mechanical engineering. He is living home and going to a state school. He works part time to help pay for his college. He is finishing up his freshman year with no debt. He applied for scholarships to also help. We know he is lucky that we are helping him but he has enough in his saving to pay for all of next year if we chose to have him pay. Somewhere over the years it became kids are entitled to go away to school and take out 60k in loans. So they can party? Not my kids. Also making your kids work while going to school? My husband and I did. So do our kids. Some coworkers act like I abuse my kids because I have them get part time jobs. It actually gets them more organized and they become better workers.
    School isn't for everyone. People act like it is. We are doing the best we can for each of our kids. Each one is different and requires different situations. Some kids have no clue what they want to be when they grow up. Let them work for a while to figure it out then.
    My kids were all told we will help them for 4 years. After that they are paying everything for themselves. Guess what? My oldest graduated in 3 1/2 years. Thank you AP classes.

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    1. I admire your attitude, priorities, and sacrifice. Makes Cents to me. Stay the course!
      Dock Guy

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    2. My son earned one whole semester of credits through taking CLEP exams and graduated with his AA in one and a half years with no debt at all.

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    3. Not my kids, either. Lots and lots of people think I'm JUST HORRIBLE, but I will no more hand them college on a platter than I will force them to go.

      I will HELP them, if they want it enough to fight for it...

      ...but if they don't want it enough to fight for it, then there's no point in going anyway.

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    4. It's GOOD for them to have to work for it. Helps them finish turning into adults while they're still young enough to be close to the ground, so the fall from their mistakes isn't so hard or so far.

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    5. We can be horrible together. I know there are other people that feel this way, I just don't know them face to face. My kid's friends are taking out massive debt. It breaks my heart.

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  3. I agree. Did you see this segment on NBC Nightly News last week?

    https://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/video/is-college-worth-it-1224388675725

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  4. The average plumber now makes more than the average lawyer and that is as it should be. The plumber makes shit go away.---ken

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    Replies
    1. A good lawyer also makes shit go away... 😉

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  5. The definition of a liberal art is that it has little or no exchangeable value. Some do have intrinsic value, but less and less these days.

    I came across this article on college education a few years ago. There was a time when college was gave the student a head start on becoming educated, but these days exposure to ideas and educated thinkers is easier online than on campus. Rather then forcing students to develop for latter life, liberal arts programs these days seem to be producing hot house flowers.

    "The idea is, of course, that men are successful because they have gone to college. No idea was ever more absurd. No man is successful because he has managed to pass a certain number of courses and has received a sheepskin which tells the world in Latin, that neither the world nor the graduate can read, that he has successfully completed the work required. If the man is successful, it is because he has the qualities for success in him; the college "education" has merely, speaking in terms' of horticulture, forced those qualities and given him certain intellectual tools with which to work—tools which he could have got without going to college, but not nearly so quickly. So far as anything practical is concerned, a college is simply an intellectual hothouse. For four years the mind of the undergraduate is put "under glass," and a very warm and constant sunshine is poured down upon it. The result is, of course, that his mind blooms earlier than it would in the much cooler intellectual atmosphere of the business world.

    "A man learns more about business in the first six months after his graduation than he does in his whole four years of college. But—and here is the "practical" result of his college work—he learns far more in those six months than if he had not gone to college. He has been trained to learn, and that, to all intents and purposes, is all the training he has received. To say that he has been trained to think is to say essentially that he has been trained to learn, but remember that it is impossible to teach a man to think. The power to think must be inherently his. All that the teacher can do is help him learn to order his thoughts—such as they are."

    Marks, Percy, "Under Glass", Scribner's Magazine Vol 73, 1923, p 47

    http://www.archive.org/stream/scribnersmag73editmiss#page/46/mode/2up

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  6. Ken: Ha-ha! That cracked me up! :-)

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  7. I'm not dissing the trades. But seriously, the median salary for a plumber in the US is $50K. That is, half the people make more, half make less. Not big money. Plus I'm tired of the idea that if you major in English or history, you won't be able to get a job. What nonsense. People who push that idea have never worked in corporate America, many of whom have liberal arts degrees.

    Sure, we need the trades. But could we just stop with the idiotic generalizations, such that only people who major in certain subjects can get jobs? Because that's just completely silly.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Most unemployed blue collar types can thank Corporate America for destroying their jobs. Next...

      Granted, there may be a demand for liberal arts majors. And their skills may have some value to humanity.

      But with the exception of Hillary, when was the last time one of them answered an emergency call for help at 3:00 in the morning? Can you provide any specific examples?

      Dock Guy

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    2. Yes, computer techs do it all the time. And plenty of them majored in liberal arts, as I did.

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  8. You are so right, again. So many of these "educated" folks do not have the street smart to pour water out of a boot with the directions on the bottom. They are $30,000 or more in debt for their college degree, but have to spend dollars everyday
    At Starbucks.
    My son, not college educated, is a vice president of a multi national corporation, because he has common sense and street smarts. They can not find college educated people capable of the requirements to fill their job openings.
    When corporate America goes completely to pot, the trades people will survive. Maybe we will get back to important jobs like the family farm.
    Yes, we need educated folks for STEM vocations. The only problem, too many of our places of higher education, don't turn out good STEM educations.
    My life in law enforcement AND farming has served me well. Don't see how I would be better of, had I spent four years in college almost sixty years ago.

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  9. My wife an I live in Norman, OK, home of the University of Oklahoma, and we’ve seen this scenario play out dozens of times. Our church has a university ministry, and almost without exception, the young folks majoring in English, History, and such cannot find jobs. One young lady came to get a PhD in English, didn’t finish, and after two adjunct positions at other colleges, went home with no PhD and no job. I suspect lots of debt. Meanwhile, a young man, twenty-one and married, completed firefighters school and already has a job. Pretty sure no debt.
    I have an English education degree myself, from 1976, and always had a job teaching. That time is pretty much over these days. I counsel young folks NOT to get a teaching degree unless they are prepared to be poor the rest of their lives.
    Jeff

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  10. My wife an I live in Norman, OK, home of the University of Oklahoma, and we’ve seen this scenario play out dozens of times. Our church has a university ministry, and almost without exception, the young folks majoring in English, History, and such cannot find jobs. One young lady came to get a PhD in English, didn’t finish, and after two adjunct positions at other colleges, went home with no PhD and no job. I suspect lots of debt. Meanwhile, a young man, twenty-one and married, completed firefighters school and already has a job. Pretty sure no debt.
    I have an English education degree myself, from 1976, and always had a job teaching. That time is pretty much over these days. I counsel young folks NOT to get a teaching degree unless they are prepared to be poor the rest of their lives.
    Jeff

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  11. Having this debate hot and heavy with my husband, as our oldest prepares to graduate high school.

    She wants to get certified as an EMT and take some time to think about it before she goes to college. I'm all for it. Hubby and MIL are dead set against it.

    Whatever way it breaks down here (not going to defy Hubby and MIL, but not going to lie to my child about life decisions either), I know I don't even have to read the article to agree with you.

    I had fun getting a BA in English. But the only thing useful I got out of it was Hubby, and the liberalism burned out of me. Too bad I also got the love of writing burned out of me. I could have read heavy books and thought about them on my own time, and kept the pleasure in writing and several thousand dollars in my pocket.

    AND picked up an education that I would actually use around here. I have taught myself to do a lot of handy things, but I can no more set a door plumb and level than I can get a contractor to return my calls about hiring it done (and I'd really, really like to be able to use my back door again)!!

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  12. Not everyone should go to college, but for many college is a very good option. Our son will be a sophomore in college in the fall, and he is doing it all debt free with the help of scholarships and money he makes from his full time job, and he lives at home. He should be able to enter the professional world in a few years making at least $50K a year. He also knows how to do basic home repairs, as well as basic car repairs, drive a tractor, milk a cow and shovel poop.

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    1. Great job. Our son's should hang out. They might be some of the few that graduate debt free and have a work ethic.

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