Penn Foster Logo

Year after year contentious dialogue continues to circulate around a four-year college education, insomuch it's practically become trite to hear about. High tuition rates, swollen student loan debt and languishing employment opportunities for college grads perpetuate the skepticism over a college education that concerns academia, American households, and our youth.

In 2011, more than half of college grads (53.6 percent, 1.5 million grads) under age 25 were unemployed or underemployed, according to an analysis of Current Population Survey data by Northeastern University and research from Drexel University economist Paul Harrington.1 A 2013 McKinsey and Chegg Inc. survey of more than 4,900 students also discovered that a third of graduates believe college didn't prepare them well for the real-world workforce.2

Joe Lamacchia, owner of a successful landscaping, asphalt, and masonry business, shares with The Fiscal Times that he doesn't understand how traditional college became grade thirteen. As author of Blue Collar and Proud of It, Lamacchia promotes the virtues of skilled labor and advocates skilled labor occupations as a way to get ahead. In a constantly evolving academic landscape, education isn't one size fits all.3

Sure, data shows a college investment accrues higher future earnings throughout a lifetime. But young people still have bright higher education alternatives and skilled trade learning solutions that lead to personal self-reward, financial stability, and career goals. Here's why career colleges stand out as excellent options for furthering an education and achieving a fulfilling career.

Employable & Core Academic Skill Development

A career college is a public or private, nonprofit or for profit accredited academic institution, such as a technical, vocational, postsecondary, or blended education school. A student enrolls in a career college for career-specific training and an education earned with certifications, diplomas, and degrees. This type of higher education concentrates on preparing the student for the professional workforce by equipping him or her with specialized tools of a trade.

A postsecondary education concentrates on a specific field and helps a student develop the specialized skills to succeed in a promising career. In two years, a student can earn an associate degree for in-demand professions such as lab technician, computer technician, radiation therapist, and paralegal. Because a postsecondary college focuses on a rigorous and relevant curriculum that clearly prepares a student with job-specific skills, students walk away career-ready, along with an academic degree or professional certification in hand.

Failure to Launch: Structural Shift and the New Lost Generation, a joint report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce and The Generations Initiative, highlights that within the past three decades, significant structural shifts in the economy have created an essential postsecondary phase in the labor market for young adults. And although the employment rate dropped from 84 percent to 72 percent during the 2000s, jobs continue to open for young adults in the labor market because of retirements, despite older workers working longer. Retirements have actually produced more job openings per young person today when compared to the 1990s. As a result, postsecondary education, learning, and earning continues to serve as a pivotal stage in a career launch for our ambitious youth.4

What other types of career college opportunities can students embark upon? At online and blended education career school Penn Foster, a career-focused student can enroll in career diploma or career certificate programs.

For example, students can earn an associate degree for programs including Accounting, Engineering Technology, Graphic Design, Early Childhood Education, Fashion Merchandising, and Finance, among others. A bachelor's degree is available in Business Management and Criminal Justice. Other earned educations include a variety of certificates for fields such as Anatomy and Physiology, Automotive HVAC, Child Psychology, and Health Information Management. Career diplomas are available for Web Page Design, Veterinary Assistant, Pharmacy Technician, and Paralegal.5

Monetary Savings

Between 2011 and 2012, 57 percent of bachelor's degree recipients from a public four-year college graduated with student debt averaging $25,000, according to Trends in Higher Education by CollegeBoard. Compared to the 52 percent of college graduates in 2001 and 2002 who borrowed approximately 22 percent (or $4,500) less than that figure, the student borrowing trend continues to alarm.6 Even more harrowing, the graduating class of 2014 accepted their diplomas with an average student debt of $33,000.7 Soaring tuition costs, room and board rates, academic fees, and other college expenses have created a nationwide financial crisis of outstanding student debt totaling $1.2 trillion.8 While facing bleak job markets after graduation, steep student debt is a monumental, even impossible, burden for recent graduates to carry.

Postsecondary college (including accredited institutions for higher education, community colleges, training programs, and trade, technical, or vocational schools) provides a more affordable alternative. Four-year institutions cost about $23,066 between 2011 and 2012, whereas two-year institutions cost on average only $9,308, according to the National Center for Education Statistics by the Institute of Education Sciences.9 During this same time period, the NCES of IES also states the annual student loan amount for students enrolled in student aid programs at public two-year institutions averaged $4,800, which is decidedly more manageable than a public four-year college debt of $25,000.10

Burgeoning Job Market

The Council of Presidents shared a Policy Brief delivering data that covered the value of postsecondary education. Interestingly, U.S. jobs requiring postsecondary education increased from 28 to 59 percent between 1973 and 2008. And postsecondary jobs are predicted to grow nationwide from 59 percent to 63 percent between 2008 and 2018.11 Technical trades, middle-skill jobs and health care occupations continue to be high-growth industries and a significant part of the economy.

Many STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) occupations, in particular environmental engineers and science technicians, only require an associate degree, informs the Association For Career & Technical Education. The not-for-profit education association adds that about 726,000 jobs are available in trade, transportation, and utility industries, and 256,000 jobs are available in manufacturing. By 2020, 55 million jobs are projected to open up, and 30 percent will require some college or a two-year associate degree at least.12

"Today's highest-paying, in-demand professions are actually blue-collar jobs," asserts Dedrick Muhammad, Senior Director of Economic Programs, NAACP, and Huffington Post contributor. Keep in mind though, many blue-collar professions still require extensive training and apprenticeships to advance skill sets and receive certification.

Plumbers, pipefitters, and welders are among the top three occupations in need of qualified, highly skilled professionals.13 The Fiscal Times also highlights the following blue collar jobs:

  • Nuclear Power Reactor Operator (average annual wage $77,000)
  • Boilermaker ($56,000)
  • Subway and Streetcar Operator ($53,000)
  • Transportation Inspector ($62,000)
  • Construction Manager ($94,000)
  • Precision Instrument and Equipment Repairer ($51,000)
  • Electrician ($50,000)
  • Plumber and Pipelayer ($50,360)
  • Avionics Technicians ($52,000)14


Flexibility for Diversity

Between 2000 and 2011, postsecondary education enrollment steadily increased from 45 to 50 percent for students ages 18 to 19, and 32 to 40 percent for students ages 20 to 24.15 Postsecondary education, career colleges, community colleges, and trade schools attract high school graduates because of flexible academic structures that can be tailored to meet diverse student needs. For example, online colleges provide students with independent remote learning experiences. Online students can learn at their own pace and control their schedule, which is convenient for people who have demanding external responsibilities. Blended learning models (also known as "blended learning"), MOOC partnerships, and other cutting-edge technology-based academic platforms also provide nontraditional higher education students with revolutionized ways to advance academically and professionally.

Resources: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5); (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) (11) (12) (13) (14) (15)