Auto Repair and Plumbing Should be College Majors

May 13, 2010 by  
Filed under Money and Behavior

Colleges and universities sustain themselves by convincing parents, guidance counselors, and President Obama that a four-year college degree should be the goal of every student. One recent consequence is a complete government takeover of the student loan program. A longer term and persistent result is that we have more students going to college but not graduating.  

The worst are the for-profit colleges, such as the University of Phoenix, Kaplan University, and DeVry University.  They represent the fastest-growing segment of so-called “higher education” in the United States yet their graduation rates average around 20 percent. (Source)  It’s pathetic.

Compounding the problem is that so many of these college dropouts leave campus with no degree but substantial student loan debt. The student debt load is increasing, with students at for-profit colleges taking (and defaulting on) a disproportionate share. (Source)  For a close look at the ridiculously wasteful (for students) for-profit college industry, watch the PBS production of College, Inc. or at least read the interviews.

I have a proposal to end this madness.

We need more good plumbers, mechanics, electricians, and other skilled tradesmen (and women). People who can competently build and fix things we use every day.  We don’t need more college graduates (or dropouts) with meaningless degrees, performing jobs that do not even require a degree. We certainly don’t need any more lawyers, investment bankers, and MBA goofballs populating Wall Street and scheming ways to steal our money.

The problem is that many people feel inferior if they don’t have that college degree.

So teach them auto repair, plumbing or another skilled trade. Give them a test. If they complete the course and pass the test, give them a college degree. Let them walk across the stage with a cap and gown and hand them a nice diploma. Make it a proud moment for everyone. Seriously.

What do we care if they didn’t live in a dormitory or get drunk at a fraternity party? Neither did all of those online degree seekers at the University of Phoenix. If they can solve my plumbing problem or repair my car the first time, I’ll happily pay them a lot more than some business or English major who waits tables or manages a Starbucks but can’t build or fix anything.

The Bachelor of Plumbing Arts degree. The Bachelor of Vehicle Repair Sciences.  Yes. Their time has come.

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11 Responses to “Auto Repair and Plumbing Should be College Majors”
  1. mdb says:

    One thing to keep in mind with this, many regulated and accredited industries require a college degree when one isn’t needed. I got my first job in an environmental lab (cookbook chemistry or biology – follow directions get the result), there were quite a few HS grads when I worked in there, but regulation and accreditation requirements now require all new employees have a college degree. Ridiculous. So while a degree may not be necessary, it is required. So in the end the state boosts demand and supply – things cost more and more people have more debt – everyone loses.

  2. PW says:

    Back when I was teaching high school they did have a blue collar course for automotive repair, wood working, cooking etc. There was a whole “shop” area to teach the students with state of the art equipment. Eventually it was discontinued, never really got a good answer why. I thought it a grea idea, not everyone wants to or needs to go to college and it gave enough experience to see if students were interested. I as a teacher was enticed to go to the automotive repair classes to try to get some girls in them, eventually got certified as a mechanic, and loved doing my own repairs to my cars. I got a lot of kids involved. Wish they would bring those back.

  3. Brandy says:

    oh I sooo totally agree. all thru high school they push and push for you to go to college. most kids entering college are idiots (i know i was) and dont know what theyre doing there. i think what you mentioned should totally be taught in high school and more advanced training in college. i wasted so much time in high school learning things for tests that i have since forgot or dont need now (really i need to know imaginary numbers, that makes no sense) but should have been learning basic home maintainance or how to change my oil, etc… practical real world stuff. I think its a shame that colleges only push white collar ness and no real skills. and i dont think a college degree is necessary for most white collar jobs. no law and medicine thats one thing but middle mgmt shouldnt require it.

    • TMN says:

      Speaking as someone who currently works for middle management, I care a lot more about their complex math and statistics skills than I do about whether they can change their own oil or repair a leaking sink. Middle management has to know how to present the numbers generated by the people under them to upper management effectively so they can justify doing the things that really need to be done.

      “I think its a shame that colleges only push white collar ness and no real skills. and i dont think a college degree is necessary for most white collar jobs.”

      I don’t know what you think a white collar job is, but it takes some effort to get a college degree without learning useful skills. Sure, some of them tend to be a bit slanted toward theory rather than application, but not so much that applying it to the real world is difficult.

  4. Emily says:

    The world needs ditch diggers…

    As a teacher (and I hate saying that I am a teacher b/c I don’t want to be grouped in with typical teacher mentality), I have been saying the same thing. Not everyone needs to go to college…however, everyone does need to further their education after high school in some capacity (if they want to make more than $7 an hour).

    Nothing wrong with being an electrician, plumber, auto mechanic…after all, most of them make a whole lot more than I do!

  5. Another Reader says:

    Ummmm…how about bringing back the apprenticeship programs? Kids used to leave high school and go directly into paid apprenticeship programs in the trades. Most of them developed an interest in a specific area in their shop classes in high school and had contact with adults working in the trades as examples.

    These days, the trades and other blue collar jobs are looked down on, and the schools are too afraid of liability to offer shop classes. Parents are brainwashed into unrealistic expectations for their kids, and conclude they are being discriminated against if their kids are not treated as college material.

    Take a look at who is actually working on your car or building that subdivision down the street. Chances are, those folks did not go to high school with you or your kids. Heck, a lot of them didn’t even finish high school. Look at the bill from the last time you called a licensed plumber or electrician (if you didn’t call an unlicensed handyperson). It’s not cheap to get things fixed or replaced. The hourly rate may not be as high as your CPA or attorney, but neither is the overhead. And very few of the college graduates we are turning out will ever achieve professional wages. Most of them will earn less than the licensed tradesperson you call.

    It’s all about what work is valued by our society. These days, a higher value is placed on desk jobs pushing paper. That’s why we have so much illegal immigration and a schizophrenic attitude about it. For us to get back to a normal, balanced economy, we have to train people to do all the jobs out there and then expect them to do those jobs.

  6. TMN says:

    I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I totally agree that we should eliminate any stigma against skilled non-college trade professions.

    However, just turning those professions into honorary degrees isn’t going to do it. A college degree implies some in-depth study of abstract theory as well as application, and usually some training in research or the process of creating new knowledge in the field. That training doesn’t make a college graduate a better person than someone without a degree, but it does represent an area of knowledge that you don’t get with a vocational degree.

    It’s also not just a problem with perception. Abstract thinking, research / creative skills, and training in theoretical concepts are all major factors for increasing personal income, since those skills allow the worker to benefit from automation and technology to magnify their efforts. That’s almost guaranteed to provide an “easier” (in terms of physical effort) work environment, and an increased income. At least SOME of the perceived inferiority from those not in that position is accurate, since they either cannot make as much or are forced to sustain higher levels of physical labor (or both). It makes sense that more people are attracted to those positions than the available jobs or aptitude would strictly suggest… people always try for the more desirable outcome, even sometimes when it’s unlikely.

  7. Jack Clark says:

    “A college degree implies some in-depth study of abstract theory as well as application, and usually some training in research or the process of creating new knowledge in the field. That training doesn’t make a college graduate a better person than someone without a degree, but it does represent an area of knowledge that you don’t get with a vocational degree.”

    So what.

    In this employment environment, guaranteed the person who is ASE certified in auto repair will find a job faster than the billionth person who is finance major or a business admin major.

    My finance degree isn’t doing be a hill of crap right now in finding a job.

    But if I were ASE certified I could choose from about eight places within fifteen minutes of me all that are hiring now.

  8. Clark Kent says:

    The old company sponsored apprenticeship programs (I went through one myself) were essentially phased out by established union apprenticeship programs – that companies decided to take advantege of for cost saving reasons. In my opinion, this was and remains a mistake, but the “bottom line” of the companies rule the day.

    Years ago, Vo-Techs were independent institutions ran by the states. Nowadays, many of these institutions have been absorbed into the “community college systems” that have become so common. Instead of a diploma that was based on cumulative hours in the craft, gradsuates now receive actual college diplomas in these areas of study.

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