Focus on vocational education could reduce student debt

By Ryan Harding

As most of us students realize, student debt is crippling our generation. Life is often put on hold as young Americans grapple with the staggering amount of debt they amassed.

As a result, first home purchases, marriages, children and other major life events are put on the back burner because our generation does not have the financial security required to move forward in life. Many recent college graduates will find themselves moving back into their parents’ home rather than buying one for themselves.

The best way to reduce the effects of the student debt load for our generation is for fewer people to attend four-year universities and for more people to receive vocational education at local community colleges. This is because the average yearly tuition at a community college is $3,347 while the average annual tuition of a four-year college is $9,139 and $31,231 a year for a private college.

Further, many jobs that require vocational training make substantial, middle class incomes. As concrete examples, consider that truckers, carpenters and machinists make approximately $40,000 annually while plumbers and electricians make approximately $50,000 annually.

Quite simply, as Senator Marco Rubio said this fall, “For the life of me I don’t know why we stigmatize vocational education. Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.”

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Frankly, I could not agree more. Preparing our American economy for this new century is going to require people of all skills and backgrounds, and mindlessly sending or trying to send everyone to college, where they rack up debt for degrees that won’t get them jobs, is not going to prepare this country for the challenges ahead.

Simply put, I would much rather be a welder making $17.45 an hour than a barista with a bachelor’s degree making minimum wage desperately trying to pay off student loans.

Many want to fix the student debt problem by increasing public spending into the higher education system so society, rather than the student, shoulders the staggering cost of education. However, I am unpersuaded by such proposals because universities are incapable of judiciously spending this money and would simply raise their tuition and increase their bureaucracies as they have done in the past.

The high cost of education cannot be blamed solely on the increase in the number of students. From 1974 to 2014, the number of students increased by 110 percent. However, over this period, the price of tuition at public universities increased by 270 percent while the cost at a private university increased by 204 percent. Despite the rise in tuition, federal and state governments have increased funding for education during this time.

As for college bureaucracies, according to the American Institute for Research, “The number of non-academic administrative and professional employees at U.S. colleges and universities has more than doubled in the last 25 years, vastly outpacing the growth in the number of students or faculty.” This increase in the size of bureaucracy also occurred at the University.

From 1987 to 2011, the enrollment of students increased 42.4 percent. However, the number of full time administrators over this period more than doubled, an increase of 116 percent. And the number of full time professional staff over this time span increased by 75.33 percent.

The disproportionate increase in University administration relative to student growth shows the unwise allocation of public funding. It is for this reason that we should refocus the public’s efforts on vocational education rather than encouraging every prospective college student to study at a four-year university.

Efforts to increase technical training must be done so in tandem with pro-growth reforms that make America the best place for manufacturing and business. This can be accomplished in part by tax reform, workers compensation reform, promoting energy exploration and providing tariffs on nations who recklessly harm the environment or do not treat their workers humanely. Only then will American workers be able to fully actualize their potential.

The American middle class was created by hard work, skilled labor, and industrial strength. Greater emphasis on vocational education, in addition to pro-growth reforms, would go a long way to achieving our goal of growing the middle class and shrinking our generation’s student debt.

We must put a greater emphasis on skilled training, so more individuals can enjoy the American dream on their own terms.

Ryan is a law student at the University.?

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