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University vs. Trade School

Some time ago, a friend on Facebook proclaimed his frustration about his Job status and prospective employment chances. I say “some time ago” because I have been doing some research in my copious free time.

He is currently making in the $8/hour range as an unarmed security guard. He is frustrated because he can barely survive on that, and saving for college is a dream at that income.

This got me to thinking about how our work habits and expectations have been distorted. The big push from our local school system in recent years have been for "Every Child. Every Day. College Bound." I really don’t see how they can achieve this goal with a 30+% dropout rate.

I have also read story after story about the crushing amount of student loan debt people going for higher education take on.

I do not agree that you need a college education to “get ahead.” There is an alternative distained by Liberals that is very viable. That alternative is trade school, where you learn to be a plumber, electrician, welder, carpenter and so on. Now, trade schools are looked at with contempt by “intellectuals” because you don’t sit all day, thinking and doing paperwork. Having such a trade means you’re usually grimy and dirty at the end of the day, but you can look back and say, “I helped create that.”

Just because you haven’t done a dissertation comparing the prose styles of Shakespeare vs. Keats does not mean you are “uneducated” or “dumb.” It takes a lot of mental as well as physical effort to build things, a concept that seems to constantly escape Liberals.

So, I decided to wash a few numbers through a spreadsheet and see what came out. Here are my sources, US Inflation Calculator, to obtain snapshots of the rate of inflation and this graphic, derived from the information contained in U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, higher education general information survey, Aug 2009.

DISCLAIMER: These numbers are averages, and thus exactly inaccurate. These numbers also under the premise of a 4 year degree, where in real life it could take an extra year or two, due to switching majors, retaking a few courses and the like. The premise is also there that all costs are drawn on Student Loan funds and not being employed to offset some/all of these funds. As far as income, they are again averages. Yes, they start low and end high.

What I see is that from 1978-2008, inflation rose a total of 230.2%. What cost $1.00 in 1978 cost $3.30 in 2008.

I am going on the assertion that the costs in the table are per year, so in 1978, a 4 year degree cost $11,672. In 2008, that 4 year degree, indexed for inflation, would have cost $38,544. In real life, it costs $81,744. In raw dollars (not taking into account inflation), since 1978, the price of college has gone up 700%. If we were to factor in the rate of inflation, this tops out at a staggering (approximate) 1,600% growth rate!

Having worked in the mental health field, I know of two degrees that a lot of my (former) co-workers had, a BSW (Bachelors of Social Work) and an MSW (Masters of Social Work). A BSW degree takes about 4 years and $81,744. The Masters takes 6 years and $122,616. The average annual income for a BSW is $50k and an MSW can average $58.7k annually. That is a national average and a lifetime average. Most of the MSW’s I knew were making less than $35k a year, with the same level of student loan debt.

A trade school (electrician) costs about $33,000 to complete. An average of an average between Electrician I and Electrician II is 44.7k annually.

Now, all of those “debt experts” say that your consumer debt (non-house debt) should not exceed 20% of your take-home pay, otherwise known as net income. Using a 4% interest rate on student loans, these are what each of these would pay for 10, 15 and 20 years:

Position Payment % of Take Home Total Paid
10 years
BSW $546.72 19% $65,606
MSW 901.08 26% 108,129
Electrician 334.11 13% 40,093
15 years
BSW $399.43 14% $71,897
MSW 658.32 19% 118,498
Electrician 244.10 9% 43,937
20 years
BSW $327.23 11% $78,535
MSW 539.32 16% 129,437
Electrician 199.97 8% 47,993

As you can see, the debt load is a lot easier on the Electrician than the BSW or MSW, because the Electricians pay is almost the same but a lot less starting debt. The MSW’s debt load is almost unmanageable at 10 years, barely manageable at 15 years and okay manageable at 20 years. The Electrician can get rid of his debt easier and in half the time.

I personally don’t have a college degree. I learned my basics in the Navy working on radios, radars and other communications equipment. My computer skills (programming, networking and so on) are all self-taught. I also have a voracious appetite for knowledge. Most people never pick up a non-fiction book after they leave High School/College. The bottom line is, consider a trade school to learn a skill.

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