Who Needs a Four-Year Degree?

Not everyone. In fact, not most people. The Center’s new program, “Great Jobs Without a Four-Year Degree,” highlights the fact that there are many rewarding careers that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, and don’t entail a mountain of debt. Today, Kathy Kersten has the lead op-ed in the Sunday Star Tribune. It is titled “Postsecondary education for non-dummies.” Here are some excerpts, please do read the whole thing:

In recent decades, our society has developed a powerful cultural bias that a four-year college degree is optimal for everyone, and that any other path to a career is second-best, “for dummies.” But in fact young people who choose alternative pathways — like a two-year associate’s degree, an apprenticeship or an occupational certificate — can often land in-demand, well-paying jobs fast, avoid crippling debt and look forward to a secure future. Some earn significantly more than classmates who choose the four-year route.
Here’s the paradox: Today, while an increasing number of young people — especially young men — are adrift and living in Mom’s basement, thousands of skilled jobs are going begging in our state. This is especially true in high-demand fields like technical occupations and the trades.

Our state’s manufacturers, for example, struggle to fill two-thirds of the available jobs, according to Minnesota’s Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). The problem will grow worse as baby boomers continue to retire.

This skills gap will severely hamper the ability of Minnesota’s economy to grow unless we address it with urgency now.

“Today, 79 percent of construction companies can’t find enough qualified workers,” according to Dennis Medo, who heads Project Build Minnesota. “Unless that changes soon, building costs may skyrocket and many construction projects simply won’t get built.”

“More than 40 percent of technical workers in the utility industry are eligible to retire in the next five years,” says Bruce Peterson, executive director of the Minnesota State Energy Center of Excellence. “But if you take 40 percent of the people out of the power plants, how do you keep them running? None of us can function without electricity.” All the skilled trades are “in the same predicament,” he adds.

The solution is hiding in plain sight. We must do better at informing students, and their parents, about all their opportunities as they make postsecondary plans.
For example, the median annual wages for air traffic controllers, medical sonographers and dental hygienists are $143,000, $75,900 and $72,500, respectively, according to DEED.

Electrical repairers and installers’ median annual wages are $58,600, and HVAC repairers and installers’ are $52,200. For electric power line installers and power plant operators, the figures are $76,400 and $72,700.

And that’s just the beginning.

In September, the Center will publish a report by a labor economist showing that there are a number of technical fields, not requiring a college degree, where expected lifetime earnings are significantly higher than those of the average Minnesota college graduate.