What do you want to be when you grow up? This is a question we ask our children occasionally to see what's churning in their minds. However, deciding on a career path is often not an easy decision, especially for an 18-year-old just graduating high school. It is no wonder an estimated 20% to 50% of young adults enter college without declaring a major and roughly 75% of college students change their major at least once.
For some, a four-year college turns out to not to be the right path and, unfortunately, that can be an expensive life lesson. In the United States, the average student graduates from college with about $37,000 in student loans. Across the board, 45 million borrowers owe $1.7 trillion. Imagine you are a young adult who decided to attend college for two years but realized it was not the correct fit and dropped out to pursue a different path. You gained thousands of dollars in debt without the benefit of a degree.
The fact of the matter is college is not the right fit for everyone, even though it is often marketed as a necessity to succeed. For some, entering the workforce, going to a trade school or even just going to college later in life is the best fit.
Attending a four-year college later in life, giving an individual time to figure out what he or she wants to do, is quickly becoming the norm. It is estimated that roughly 40% of college students are non-traditional students, those who do not fit into the typical college-age bracket of 18-24.
Although colleges and universities are often the ones being pushed onto our school-aged children, careers in trades ranging from car mechanics to welders to plumbing to health care are just as viable, not to mention profitable, choices. To give high school students better access to what trade schools offer and to prepare those wanting to enter the workforce right out of high school, I supported a bipartisan omnibus career and technical education (CTE) bill which became law a few years ago, and we are seeing the benefits.
The law simplifies the process for schools to establish vocational courses; creates a state Schools-to-Work program; requires the Department of Education to outline the state’s workforce needs, including training opportunities and future earning potential; and gives representatives from community colleges and CTE schools equal access to meet with students during career and college fairs. This law covers all aspects of post-secondary education choice. It identifies workforce shortages, improves training and educational courses, and helps spread the word about CTE to high school students.
According to a recent report by Fox43, administrators at area vocational schools said they have seen an increase in applications to attend their schools. I am very encouraged by this news and am hopeful that through this legislation, the students of the Commonwealth are now seeing the wide range of career paths they can choose from.
Specifically, through a CTE path, students stand to come out of a trade school, two-year college and/or an apprenticeship prepared for good trades jobs that offer family-sustaining wages and far less debt in comparison to a traditional four-year college path. For this reason, I have advocated in budget hearings the past couple weeks that Pennsylvania needs to target education funding in high-demand and high-success career pathways.
I am in no way against institutions of higher learning, but I do firmly believe they are not the only paths to success in our Commonwealth. We owe it to our students to make all these options available to them so they can choose the one that is perfect for their situation. At the end of the day, when we ask our children what they want to do when they get older, we hope the answer is “I want to work in Pennsylvania.”
Representative Torren Ecker
193rd Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Greg Gross