Most folks have heard the joke about a doctor summoning a plumber for an emergency home repair. The doctor is shocked at the hourly labor charge and says, “That is more than I earn as a physician.” The plumber grins and replies, “I know. I used to be a physician.”
In 2014, I was working as a tribal police officer and stopped a speeder late at night on Interstate 15 southbound toward Las Vegas. The driver was a young lady; the front-seat passenger was her mother. As I often did on that lonely stretch of highway, I struck up a conversation.
The driver said she had just graduated college. I congratulated her and asked what was her major. She replied, “art history.” I half-teasingly said, “Oh, so you’ll be living at home for a while.” I didn’t anticipate the “how did you know” look of shock on her face. Her mother was nodding her head in agreement while suppressing her laughter. I issued a warning to gracefully exit the situation and made a mental note to stop teasing liberal arts majors.
Both vignettes are amusing because a hint of truth lies within. The idea of blue-collar training has become passé and taken a back seat to college. There is nothing wrong with going to college, but it is not for everyone — academically or financially.
The push for higher education, and the student debt incurred thereto, have reached ridiculous levels. Students are using student loans to pay for off-campus living expenses, including dining out. The average student loan debt is $37,000 for the class of 2016 for a four-year degree, which often takes five years. A chemical engineering degree will fetch an average starting salary of $61,000, and a liberal arts major will have an average salary of $42,000. Calculate average debt payments of $350 a month, and today’s college graduate is struggling immediately when the tassel is turned.
President Donald Trump recently offered an improved apprenticeship program as an alternative to college. It’s an excellent idea because we have plenty of young people saddled with decades of debt who majored in “hands up, don’t shoot” and other studies. Meanwhile, good-paying skilled positions go unfilled.
Some unskilled workers are demanding $15 an hour. No one is going to pay you $15 an hour to make sandwiches. However, someone will pay you $15 an hour to learn a trade such as how to be a carpenter, plumber, electrician or automotive technician.
I spoke with Mike Edelstein, a retired master electrician who is a friend of mine. “We’re doing kids a disservice by making them go to college. College isn’t for everyone. It wasn’t for me,” he said.
Edelstein began his apprenticeship as a 19-year-old and retired after a 42-year career.
To him, the allure of his apprenticeship was continuous training while earning an hourly wage. The classroom education two nights a week helped prepare him for the rigorous examination at the end of his apprenticeship.
Edelstein and his bride, Mary, have put two daughters through college and live the American dream in Boulder City. (His daughters will tease him from time to time that he did go to college, but for only three weeks.) He told me that a journeyman electrician will easily earn $43 an hour in today’s market. An apprentice will make almost $20 an hour. No student loan debt is incurred.
The decision to attend college is a personal one and should be made with prayerful research and advice. However, there is another way to live the American dream in this great country. Look at the labor cost on your next auto repair invoice.
Dan Jennings can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.