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$90,000 colleges, the toolbelt generation, and why high schools need a three-track system

Opinion$90,000 colleges, the toolbelt generation, and why high schools need a three-track system

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Some Vanderbilt students will have $100,000 in total expenses for the 2024-2025 school year. And the price tag without travel will be more than $90,000 for four New England universities starting this fall.  

More Generation Z workers are going into trades as disenchantment with the college track increases and rising pay in plumbing and welding compete with a parallel generation of students graduating with degrees and no real direction of what they want to do in life. 

This, all coupled with the Biden administration desperately retooling another plan to buy votes by promising people they will wipe away student debt, only to have student debt mold itself back into shape like the villain in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”

apprentice program

Boone Willams, 20, brazes a copper pipe during a second-year apprentice training program class at the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local Union 572 facility in Nashville, Tennessee, on Feb. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

Where did we go wrong? How did we get to a point where we have $1.7 trillion of student debt, $1.1 trillion of credit card debt, and $1.6 trillion of auto loan debt? Didn’t high school teach us that if you keep on piling on debt the inevitability of bankruptcy is just on the other side of the horizon?  

AS US COLLEGE ENROLLMENT DECLINES, TRADE PROGRAMS ARE BOOMING

There may be another option.

How about a “three-track system” for high school education?

All students take two years of general education, including math, science, history, English, language, etc. Then, you choose two potential career tracks in your junior year, followed by a singular focus in your senior year.

Track 1: College

For those students who can identify a specific field or area of study that they want to pursue for a career. America needs doctors, lawyers, engineers and a litany of other professions where a college degree is truly necessary to get the basic education to begin your overall career.  

For some students, college is more than just a degree. It’s an opportunity to learn how to “grow up” and become responsible for grocery shopping, laundry, schedule management and taking care of an apartment. However, so many kids are graduating college now with a degree that doesn’t lead them to a real career path and they still call mom or dad for every single decision.

Track 2: Vocational 

Having taken a major back seat to the college preparatory track for the past 30 years because high school funding concentrated on getting students to do well on standardized tests and prepping for a four-year degree, career tech education is making a major comeback in high school.  

BIDEN ADMIN HURTING WORKING CLASS STUDENTS WITH ‘WITCH HUNT’ AGAINST CAREER COLLEGES, WATCHDOG GROUP SAYS

I took shop in high school. I took auto in high school. I took home economics in high school. I learned that I was bad at all of them, but it opened my eyes to other potential future job opportunities besides going to college. 

The vocational career track should be part of every curriculum in high schools across America. As trade workers are retiring, businesses recognize that there is a massive deficiency in the supply compared to the demand for these incredibly important skilled workers.

Not only are some of these highly paid jobs stable professions, but parents should be proud to tell their families, friends and neighbors their son or daughter is a plumber, an electrician or a welder. 

I should know best. My oldest daughter runs the operations of a concrete and hardscapes company and this attitude among parents needs to change about how we define “success” for children

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Track 3: Entrepreneur

Wouldn’t this be amazing for students who like to color outside the lines, enjoy business (or have started a business already), or have creative ideas to innovate for the future of America?

In fact, 55% of Gen Zers ages 18 to 26 and millennials ages 27 to 42 have a side hustle already and the numbers continue to grow. Whether people do this part-time, or it becomes a full-time passion, why wouldn’t we get students exposed to how to set up an LLC, run a basic profit and loss statement, and learn how to read a tax return and a pay stub? Do you think you would have used this type of information more in life than what you did by flipping on a Bunsen burner?

The president is formulating another plan to relieve Americans of more student debt. It’s a classic leadership mistake of trying to fix the effect and not solve the cause of the problem.  

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The cause is the outrageous cost to get a college education and our insatiable appetite to buy into the headline that you need a college degree to be successful in America. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. 

The solution lies in exposing our youth to real career opportunities in America the day they hit high school. A college degree just simply isn’t worth what it used to be, and the pendulum is swinging as we speak.

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE BY TED JENKIN

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