Trade Schools Are a Fantastic Option for Many High School Graduates (But Not My Son)
A letter to the editor by local resident and noted thinker Mark Dickson
To the editor:
For too long, our public education system has jammed a single post-graduation path down our kids' throats: attending a 4-year college. This one-size-fits-all approach succeeded in driving university enrollment numbers up in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, but ultimately, also saddled a generation of young people with backbreaking debt and no clear direction as they proceeded ill-equipped through their early adulthood. College is the right path for some, yes, but not all. Trade schools are a wonderful alternative to a 4-year degree, and a superior option for so many high school graduates. Not for my son Cameron, though — he just got early admission to Princeton.
America doesn’t need another humanities major. It needs electricians. Plumbers. Technicians. Hard-working people who can renovate our family’s house on Lake Winnipesaukee so that Cameron will have someplace to rest after an arduous academic year in New Jersey. Instead of encouraging your son or daughter to attend that liberal arts school and spend years taking frivolous general electives while working toward an inconsequential degree, why not nudge them to fill a real need that this country has? Cameron has known that he's wanted to be an investment banker since he was eight, so, naturally, a trade school wasn't an option for him. But in an alternate universe (one that’s much, much different than this one) it might've been.
Plus, remember — instead of paying for an overpriced university experience, your child could be earning money as they learn their in-demand trade. Good money, too! Have you been hit with a bill from one of these service businesses lately? There are a lot of zeros for an hour or two of work. And just look at the average starting salaries. In New Hampshire, for example, the average electrician's apprentice earns $53,800. Wow! That's almost as much as Cameron will make from his Goldman Sachs internship next summer.
Many careers don’t require a college degree (Cameron’s does) and not every young person enjoys being a student (Cameron does.) Plus, on the subject of academics, consider this: Trade schools won't hold your child's high school grades against them. It'll be like starting with a blank slate. No SATs or application stress, either. I should note that if trade school was an option for Cameron (which, as I've conclusively established, it wasn't) this particular point wouldn't have been a compelling benefit for him, because he maintained a 4.0 GPA and scored a 1550 on his SATs. But for other kids, like yours, it could factor into the equation.
Regardless of considerations like need, cost, interest, and academics, too often, a young person's choice to attend a traditional four-year college doesn't feel like much of a choice at all, because of one unspoken but overriding factor: their parents' egos. Mom and Dad want to – need to! – say that their child is a college student, and they project that single-mindedness onto their already-stressed out kid who’s just trying to figure out their place in the world. We need to discuss non-college paths more often and openly, and bust any stigma that might exist with entering the trades. But again, to be perfectly clear, my son Cameron will be starting at Princeton, my alma mater, in the 2023-2024 academic year. Go Tigers!
Thanks for reading! This is the first of three humor essays I’m going to write before the end of the year. If you liked this one, please subscribe below, and you’ll receive them in your inbox.