Higher education can be a high-price gambleCollege may be a poor economic choice for some young people.
By: By Matt Pommer, Superior Telegram
College may be a poor economic choice for some young people. There may be better opportunities for young people trained in manufacturing vocations.
That’s the message in a new column, written by James Morgan, president of the Madison-based Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Foundation. It comes as student debt continues to stagger the economic recovery, and it seems increasing difficult for many college graduates to find a job in their academic field.
Are too many young people entering college with unrealistic occupational goals?
Only 30 percent of jobs needed in Wisconsin require an undergraduate degree from college. Most of the other 70 percent require post-high school technical education, according to Morgan.
“What seems to be missing in the current system is a broad understanding of the jobs available,” according to Morgan. They lack an understanding of what a welder does, what a CNC operator is, he wrote.
And what’s a CNC operator, you may ask? Just to show how technology has evolved, that’s short for “computer numerical conversation operator,” which is a new take on the skill once referred to as a lathe and machine operator.
Young people don’t have accurate data about available jobs or salary information. But the same also applies to their parents. All — including the news media and teachers — share the blame for young people not understanding the upcoming job market, he wrote.
“We owe students a reality check and a job probability index — what are the odds they will find a job in their chosen field,” said Morgan. There is now a shortage of engineers, welders, CNC operators, machinists and masons,” Morgan wrote.
His column seems an invitation for young people and their parents to explore the job potential in going to a technical and vocation school rather than the traditional universities.
Morgan suggests families consider the return on the educational investment as young people reach the final years of their high school. That is the strategy business uses when it examines new products and new markets.
It might be an appropriate approach for young people who are totally undecided about their future occupation. Yet there are many young people whose dreams for the future include occupations requiring college degrees. Parents also may be pinning their own hopes that the son or daughter will become a pharmacist, physician or even a lawyer. There may be a shortage of pharmacists or medical professionals, but there are plenty of lawyers.
Teachers try to inspire young people to do their best. Talking to them about avoiding college might get some phone calls from the parents who have their own dreams.
Morgan’s approach may also make sense for those who want to become teachers. The state annually turns out thousands of those with teaching credentials. Meanwhile the state is cutting back on helping finance local education.
Sometimes job openings can change gears. The building trades, for example, have been battered by the recession and limited home building. Just a few years ago, the tradesmen had regular work and regular pay.
Education can even change. As the 21st Century began there was a dire warning about a shortage of nurses. But additional schools have entered the nursing education field and others have expanded their training. The nursing job market has changed drastically.
To some a college education seems like opening a wide door to opportunity. But it may be a high-cost gamble, as Morgan hints. More than 30 years ago then University of Wisconsin President Ed Young had another warning about student loans:
Your child may go to college, fall in love and end up marrying someone who has just as many, if not more, student loan debts.