We Get It. College is Great. But So is Welding.

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I’ve written several versions of this blog over the last 25 years (time flies when you are cranking out mediocre content) and I’ve decided I’m going until I get a response.

Response from whom?  I’m not sure, but I’m not giving up.

Vocational education is getting the shaft (hey, I think I just came up the title of my new country music song).

In the last 40 years colleges and universities have done a wonderful job of marketing themselves as the solution to society’s problems.When Did We Decide This Guy Wasn't Important?

Too often, I think we forget colleges are not only a place to educate, but they are businesses.  They exist to make money (and lots of it).

To survive they need customers (and lots of them… who coincidently have parents who pay a lot of money)

Higher education has done quite well by advertising (radio, tv, shirts, athletics, alumni and more athletics).  They’ve convinced several generations of high school students/parents they are the answer to all of our problems.

If you want to make money, go to college.

If you want to be successful, go to college.

If you want to have a better life than your parents, go to college.

This is fine by me.  I like money.  I’m pro success.

And who doesn’t want to have a bigger house with more stuff than their parents (unless you’re Bill Gates’ kids… then it’s okay if your take home pay is 50% of what the old man makes)?

Then there’s the reason to attend college people don’t talk about.  If you want to stay out of the military (war), go to college.

While these are all good reasons, there is a problem with making a four-year degree the only path to success.

Higher education has promoted itself not only as the solution, but at the expense of other career paths.

Our country was built on hard work.

On sweat.

On skilled labor.

On middle class families who were proud they worked hard for a living.

But in 2010, students are considered failures if they want to be carpenters, welders, or pipefitters (even though they could make a lot more money than a white collar goofball like me).

If they don’t go to a four year college they’ve underachieved.

We even have levels of educational success.

How many times have you heard a teacher or guidance counselor say, “Well, at least get a two-year degree.”

It’s like saying if you can’t cut it at a four year college, at least be less dumb than kids who don’t go at all.

College is the answer for some, just not for everyone.

It also works the other way.  Skilled trades are the answer for some, but not all.

I think we our failing our younger generations by having unrealistic expectations.

What would happen if a guidance counselor told the valedictorian they will be a failure if they didn’t learn to weld.

That would be crazy.  Their parents would be appalled.

But we do exactly the same thing to other students when we say they “need” to go to college and it’s considered okay. 

Not all students have the same skills.

The truth is we aren’t all equal and that’s okay.

If we continue down this path our country is going to pay a heavy price. 

Just think what would happen if every high school graduate attended college and got a four-year degree.

In no time, you would be paying a plumber $1500 an hour (and trust me, if you need a plumber you will pay whatever they’re charging).

It’s all about supply and demand.

We need white collar professionals with college educations, but we also need ditch diggers.

And we shouldn’t label one career path more successful than another.

Our purpose as K-12 educators should be to get students on THEIR paths to success.  It’s not to judge them when they take a different one that doesn’t involve a four year college degree.

We need to be less concerned about hurting a high school student’s feelings (and their families) and more concerned about getting them pointed in the right direction.

THEIR direction.

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19 Responses to “We Get It. College is Great. But So is Welding.”


  1. Aaron
    on Oct 24th, 2010
    @ 4:00 pm

    Amen! I am not sure why people still believe (or at least promote) the fact that college and university educations are the path to a successful life. Just because post secondary education is a higher form of traditional, “sit in desks, gather facts, and become enlightened” schooling that resembles a factory, does not mean that we need to keep reviving a broken machine. Lets have a look at the possibilities and help support students as they find their own way. Imagine the potential!


  2. Tracy
    on Oct 24th, 2010
    @ 4:49 pm

    Just made this point yesterday myself at a panel on pathways to college. We need to realize there are pathways elsewhere that are equally needed, honorable, and worthy as those that go to higher ed.


  3. Donna
    on Oct 24th, 2010
    @ 5:10 pm

    As a former vocational teacher and an admissions recruiter for a college–I agree. How many people do you know that go back to school for a vocation after a four year degree?! College is great but if you don’t want to do that…Why waste the money? Why make people feel like failures? I don’t think we should strive to have %100 of our student go to college. Vocational training, military, apprenticeship, two year degree, are just are great goals as well! Who knows, it might help you pay for the four year degree in the future–when the student is ready!


  4. Justin Tarte
    on Oct 24th, 2010
    @ 5:54 pm

    Great post – I too, at times get a little heavy on the “go to college band wagon.” Your post is a great reminder that we should be preparing kids to be successful. Whatever job that may be, we need to do everything possible so they are prepared to excel while be contributing members to society.


  5. Charlie A. Roy
    on Oct 24th, 2010
    @ 6:09 pm

    I’d agree all work has dignity and a well structured society has a necessary respect for the traders. I think I view college a little differently. I had the chance to attend a liberal arts college and be exposed to a wide variety of subjects and topics. It was in many ways a place where I learned to love learning. I’d want this same experience for anyone. Then again I have friends who specialized in such a narrow arena that when they decided they didn’t like “x” or didn’t like “y” they felt like they had wasted three or four years of their life.

    What worries me about a focus on vocation in some schools is that these programs seem to spring up all over the place in poor areas. As somehow if being from an economically depressed neighborhood should automatically limit you to a path in the trades. This is what I worry about. There is something uniquely American about wanting the best for all of our students and seeing education as a way that empowers our choices. I also think it is a little scary to ask a 13 or 14 year old to pick a career path.

    I like my work as a school administrator but I cam to it in a round about way. I majored in philosophy / theology became an option trader out of college, felt drawn to teaching and coaching, and then meandered into administration. I’ve driven a cab, owned a dog waste removal business, and managed to flip a property or two along the way.

    I understand the arguments listed below but the more education one has the more choices they have. As strange as it sounds I’d wish a liberal arts degree for everyone but I understand it is a luxury some don’t have the time or money for. It’s made a difference in my life.


  6. Dave Meister
    on Oct 24th, 2010
    @ 6:55 pm

    Great post! The best that you have produced….well, except for the one about chalk and erasers…but I digress. We do not all have the same talents (thank goodness or we would all be edubloggers…) and we surely do not need the same education or training. In less that two generations have gone from a country that prided itself on a pull-yourself-up-from-the-bootstaps, rugged individualism…to a country of whiners, willing to blame anything or anyone for a personal failure. Vocational education can and should be an important part of our schools. Sometimes it is our vocational programs that have the only true relevancy to some of our students.


  7. Olwyn Hughes
    on Oct 24th, 2010
    @ 7:16 pm

    I so agree with you. Just think, if it were not for the skilled workers in electrical, carpentry, welding etc. the colleges wouldn’t even have buildings in which to learn. We quite literally owe our neighbourhoods, schools, etc to the hard working people who find joy working with their hands.

    Going to college is not the end all and be all for everyone. Part of teaching and learning in the 21st century is helping our students find their passion in life. If it is English lit or welding shouldn’t matter.


  8. Sarah
    on Oct 25th, 2010
    @ 5:36 am

    I completely agree as there is living proof within my own household. I have two Master’s Degrees, and my husband went straight out of high school into a trade – skilled carpentry- and makes almost double what I do a year. He works full-time year-round, which I know is something people always assume does not happen since he is in a trade. Could he have went to a four-year university? Sure, but he would have dropped out due to boredom. He is more successful because of the trade school and path that led him to. This certainly does spark some discussions with our family as we discuss the future for our son – college or not.


  9. Angie
    on Oct 25th, 2010
    @ 7:44 am

    I think it should some down to a person’s talents and strengths, and whatever the pathway is to get training in that area. If a kid loves welding, great, go to welding school. If a kid loves literature, great, go to a college for a literature degree. We do the biggest disservice by focusing on the place to go, not what the student needs.

    BTW- one of our students went through computer classes during high school and got a job at Dell as soon as he graduated making $60,000 a year. I’m pretty sure at 18 I was working at KG’s Men Store at the mall.


  10. Dana
    on Oct 25th, 2010
    @ 9:07 am

    THANK YOU!!

    I have a child who is extremely bright … and is also on the autism spectrum (PPD-NOS). He has the capacity to learn at the college level, but would likely fail miserably due to some of his challenges. He is a freshman in high school this year. We are looking at 2-year vocational programs that fit his interests and abilities. We are NOT even considering a college/university education.

    What is most surprising about this is that it has lifted a HUGE amount of stress from me as a parent. I had hopes and dreams that my son would do life the normal way – to acceptable way – but the reality is that would NOT make him happy.

    And what parent wants their child to be miserable?


  11. Bill
    on Oct 25th, 2010
    @ 9:51 am

    Michael,
    I agree completely. I have twin boys who are sophomores in high school & they are incredibly different when it comes to academics and interests. Son “B” looks to be on track to be the valedictorian of his class while son “A” is lucky to earn 70′s. Son “B” wants to be a pediatrician, while son “A” can’t wait to start his vocational program in high school next year (provided we can get him through Global Studies, which sort of fits into the whole “Why does everyone have to follow the same path in high school?” debate, but that’s another story). Since I am an administrator & my wife is a teacher, it has been very difficult for us to come to terms with the fact that a four year college degree may not be what son “A” wants or needs to be successful. It has been difficult for son “A” to understand that we will be happy with his choice of careers, as long as it’s legal! He still talks about being a PE teacher or technology teacher and maybe that may be his path, but I know deep down inside he just wants to work with his hands & if it involves driving a bulldozer or some other large machine that would make it even better. Sometimes the hardest part is letting them know, in no uncertain terms, it’s ok to not go to college and we still love you and support your decision.

    We should have known those were the paths our boys would be heading down when son “A” laid on the floor for hours, as a three year old, watching through the patio doors as the heavy machines dug up and installed our new septic system while his brother became inceredibly upset that we wouldn’t buy Hooked on Phonics to help him read better, convinced that he would never go to college because he wouldn’t be able to read.


  12. Melanie
    on Oct 25th, 2010
    @ 6:47 pm

    I actually believe everyone should learn a trade before attending college for any degree. Should I ever be without a job in education (hello? pink slipping entire states people!), I could easily work as a seamstress or a floral designer, both trades I picked up from my mother who had a 2-year secretarial degree (oh, I could do that too!). If I were in a really tough bind I could work at an oil change place because my dad, by trade, was a mechanic, even though his occupation was a trainer at a nuclear plant (without a college degree!). We forget that education is not a place, but a process and all experiences lead to education.


  13. Clinton
    on Oct 26th, 2010
    @ 1:35 pm

    This is a fantastic article. A vocational education is just as important as a college degree. We need more professional welders, framers, electricians and plumbers. There is no shame in working with your hands – in fact for some people its better choice then an office job.


  14. Daisy
    on Oct 27th, 2010
    @ 6:08 pm

    My son is considering a technical college. I think he’ll fit in well and learn well in that setting. He is blind, so he needs accommodations, and that’s a concern, too. But our local tech school has a lot of good programs, and a lot of strong graduates employed in the area. Sound like a winner for this kid.


  15. tish cyrus
    on Oct 28th, 2010
    @ 4:00 am

    I’d agree all work has dignity and a well structured society has a necessary respect for the traders. I think I view college a little differently. I had the chance to attend a liberal arts college and be exposed to a wide variety of subjects and topics. It was in many ways a place where I learned to love learning. I’d want this same experience for anyone. Then again I have friends who specialized in such a narrow arena that when they decided they didn’t like “x” or didn’t like “y” they felt like they had wasted three or four years of their life.

    What worries me about a focus on vocation in some schools is that these programs seem to spring up all over the place in poor areas. As somehow if being from an economically depressed neighborhood should automatically limit you to a path in the trades. This is what I worry about. There is something uniquely American about wanting the best for all of our students and seeing education as a way that empowers our choices. I also think it is a little scary to ask a 13 or 14 year old to pick a career path.

    I like my work as a school administrator but I cam to it in a round about way. I majored in philosophy / theology became an option trader out of college, felt drawn to teaching and coaching, and then meandered into administration. I’ve driven a cab, owned a dog waste removal business, and managed to flip a property or two along the way.

    I understand the arguments listed below but the more education one has the more choices they have. As strange as it sounds I’d wish a liberal arts degree for everyone but I understand it is a luxury some don’t have the time or money for. It’s made a difference in my life.


  16. Dave
    on Oct 31st, 2010
    @ 8:57 am

    Great post. At our school we promote the trades as heavy as university. Our province is in a boom and we are short of trades people, so the demand and earning potential is there.

    Not every student is cut out for university and the same goes for tech. schools. Some stats. we had were that only 20% or so of a high school graduating class actually attend university. This has prompted many changes in how we assess students. Also, whether we should have final exams or not, etc. The point is let students go to where their interests are.
    I for one would be a horrible sheet metal worker. Trades people have many skills and intelligences, including reading technical drawings, designing, etc. I can’t picture a layout for a proposed basement in a house, so I need to hire someone!

    Even if a student wants to work a year or two and then go to school after that, I have no problem with that. How many kids change their minds on a career the first year out of high school (like me). It can bring clarity and the availability of further education is also present.


  17. Teri-K
    on Nov 1st, 2010
    @ 8:23 am

    “The truth is we aren’t all equal and that’s okay.”

    Say it again, please.
    So simple. So right. So freeing. So non-PC, unfortunately.


  18. Amy J.
    on Nov 14th, 2010
    @ 5:53 pm

    I completely agree with you on this one. A four year university is not always the answer for everyone. In our society now a days we judge people who do not have a higher education. I’ve heard people say to others “Why don’t you at least get a two year degree.” Like they won’t be as dumb as others who don’t. There are people who go to trade schools or have internships who make more money than someone with a masters. We need the skilled hard labor workers. You can have a PHD in biological research and have a million dollar home, but if they person who assembled and installed your water pumps didn’t exist than your toilet wouldn’t flush. Every job is important, and some people are cut out for certain things. That is why we choose a major in college. For me I am currently working on my BA in Special and Elementary Education and my boyfriend is an electrical panelist and I consider our professions just as important, even if I have completed a higher degree of education.


  19. Kristin
    on Nov 15th, 2010
    @ 9:30 pm

    I fully agree. There are so many professions out there that people could (and want to) pursue, but many of them are told to go to college first. They may learn some things there, but they could have worked much earlier in life and not incurred so much debt. For example, my brother is currently a senior in high school. He is looking at colleges, but he really just wants to carry on the family business (farming). He would do really well in this, but is being told by everyone that he needs to at least “get a degree” to fall back on. While I would like for him to experience all of the life skills you learn in college, it isn’t really necessary for all people. Many professions need people that are skilled, but were not necessarily educated in college. I see so many people struggle through college who would much rather be in a hands-on profession and would succeed in this. They should be allowed to pursue those interests rather than torturing themselves (and the professors who have to try to educate someone with no motivation). Also, I am going to school for special education, but most of the time I believe that I will do something else for a profession (such as working with special needs people on job skills). Is it really necessary to have a four year degree for this?

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While this site operates with the knowledge and awareness of the Tuscola CUSD #301 School Board, Tuscola, Illinois, the content and opinions posted here may or may not represent their views personally or collectively, nor does it attempt to represent the official viewpoint of Tuscola CUSD #301 administrators or employees.