1 million students with bachelor’s degrees return to community colleges to learn skilled trades

I was startled to see the number [actually, the reported number is 940,000 which is close enough] in this very timely story in the Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/more-people-with-bachelors-degrees-go-back-to-school-to-learn-skilled-trades/2020/11/20/06404180-2aa9-11eb-9b14-ad872157ebc9_story.html

We all understand the tremendous debt burden that far too many American students carry with them well into their 30s after graduating college. Paying for college during the pandemic, when millions of middle class and even more low-income families are out of work, makes its own case for the value of learning “hard” trade skills.

“The trend [of grads enrolling at community colleges] is also exposing how many high school graduates almost reflexively go to college without entirely knowing why, pushed by parents and counselors, only to be disappointed with the way things turn out – and then having to start over.”

A third of students in college change their majors “at least once” and “more than half take longer than four years to graduate,” according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Amy Lloyd, VP at Jobs for the Future, is quoted: “That makes four-year universities and colleges a really expensive career exploration program.” It’s hard to argue with this in the context of this story.

The data on how much more is earned in a lifetime by those with bachelor’s degrees is not disputed, but this story helps dispel the long-held bias within the higher education community – and perhaps by middle class parents who want to see their children achieve more than they were able to – towards the technical training widely available at the nation’s community colleges.

The economic strain which is now strangling many small colleges and those with weak endowments, will, I’m sure, force many institutions to make hard choices in the next few years. Hundreds of thousands have been laid off in the higher ed industry -many adjuncts and also full-time faculty in the humanities and social sciences – and we will have to see which academic departments survive after the pandemic ends.

Meanwhile, I’m certain that, in the short-run [which could be 3-5 years], high school seniors may have to adjust their sights on the type of “higher” education their family can afford. The sorting out of the complex inter-relationship of the pandemic, economic slowdown, unemployment, and career decision-making of high school and college-bound students is going to take a long time to unravel.

2 Comments on “1 million students with bachelor’s degrees return to community colleges to learn skilled trades

  1. Pingback: Close to a million bachelor’s degree holders returning to community colleges to learn skilled trades – AppliedHE Xtra Xtra

  2. This is a fascinating trend — thanks for highlighting it. But I don’t see this as evidence that bachelor’s studies are a “failure” if students don’t find a career waiting at the end of 4 years. They can gain so much in learning about themselves and the world without a “goal” orientation. Yes, often the expense (especially if loans) is a terrible burden and perhaps not a wise decision. But it’s also possible to look at this trend as showing that with maturity, students finally realize what training they need and can focus on it. Not all 18-year-olds are ready to do that.

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