Survey: U.S. split on value of college degree

Trades promote apprenticeships as worthy option

By Matt Jaworski

Labor Citizen Writer

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey found that nearly half of Americans believe a four-year college degree is not worth the cost – information some building trades are using to promote apprenticeships as a viable alternative.

The poll, released in September, revealed 49 percent of respondents believe earning a four-year college degree will lead to a good job and higher lifetime earnings, compared to 47 percent who do not. According to The Wall Street Journal, the two-point margin narrowed from 13 points when the question was asked four years earlier.

An NBC News article on the survey said those who believe the degree is not worth the cost often cited the reason being that, “people often graduate without specific job skills and with a large amount of debt to pay off.”

The Wall Street Journal wrote, “Some Americans believe learning a trade offers more security than going to college.”

Apprenticeships offer men and women the opportunity to earn a living wage while learning skills for a specific trade and receiving great benefits. By becoming an apprentice, a person can avoid going thousands or tens of thousands in debt due to costly student loans.

Mark Douglas, President of the Tri-County Building Trades, which has two major universities in the jurisdiction Kent State University and the University of Akron, said college debt is becoming a bigger factor when making career decisions.

“Building Trades apprentices can earn the same wages as college graduates, with no debt,” he said, adding that unlike certain white-collar jobs, work within the building trades cannot be outsourced overseas.

IUPAT District Council 6 Director of Training, George Boots, was not surprised so many Americans are less than satisfied by the options available after college.

“I see many college graduates working outside of their prospected field because they were under the mindset that college was the only path for a high-paying career,” he said.

According to the survey results, about 57 percent of those polled between 18-34 and 65 percent of working class members who identify as Caucasians said a college education was not worth the price.

Roughly 66 percent of those living in rural areas, 60 percent of the overall poor and working class, 58 percent of those with some college education and 54 percent of those who voted for Donald Trump also do not believe in the value of a bachelor’s degree.

Conversely, those with postgraduate degrees strongly believe in the value of a college degree, as 66 percent indicated the cost is worth it. Respondents with college degrees (61 percent) Clinton voters (60 percent) and high-income earners (60 percent), also strongly agreed, according to the survey results.

Boots said he believes the cost of the degree is worth it for some, but only with the right experience.
“I believe (earning a college degree) is worth the cost after the individual has had some experience in the field that they are pursuing,” he said.

While college may eventually pay off, the problem facing most college graduates is the amount of debt they incur, combined with an unknown benefits package from a job they may or may not get in their field of choice.

“You get a job out of college, maybe with decent pay, and don’t know about the quality of benefits,” said Douglas. “There are just too many unknowns with white-collar jobs. In the union, you know exactly what you’ll get.”

It is one of the reasons why organizers and Business Representatives from Locals affiliated with the Tri-County Building Trades are finding success in recruiting college students. According to Douglas, the number of college students enrolling in various area apprenticeship programs is increasing.

“We’re seeing an increase in the number of college students stopping the process of college and starting a career with the trades,” he said. “I’m starting to notice an increasing trend.”

Douglas also said most trades already have members who either went to college or stopped going to college to work for one of the affiliated Locals.

Both Boots and Douglas agreed that Ohio construction trades can benefit from the results of this survey.

“IUPAT DC 6 and (other Locals) can greatly benefit from this,” said Boots. “Students and the public don’t realize that the IUPAT DC 6 and other building trades are associated with a college. As these students become apprentices, they work on a path to a great career, while working toward a degree for free.”

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