The amount of student debt owed almost equals the amount of actual currency in circulation in the U.S. — approximately $1.7 trillion as of December 2018.
Why is student debt so high? One reason is the push toward getting a four-year university degree. Somewhere along the way, as a nation, we’ve decided the best way to gain success is through an academic career.
Yes, a four-year degree is one route to success, but it’s not the only path to a lucrative, satisfying career. We have done a disservice by not promoting the additional avenues that are available as much as we have promoted university degrees. In fact, middle and high school students already have access through career and technical education (CTE) to career paths that deliver countless opportunities.
CTE programs may be known by a different name in your area — some regions call them career academies — but they all prepare students for a range of high-wage, high-skill and high-demand jobs.
Let’s take a look at three ways CTE sets you up for success, and why it’s one of the solutions to the growing skills gap in America.
We get told that we can be anything we want when grow up. We dream of being a future president or the next big pop star or a famous artist. Generations Y and Z may have dreamed of becoming a viral sensation or becoming a recognized YouTuber.
Those dreams may eventually be dispelled as being too difficult to achieve or not paying enough to be a feasible career.
But as it turns out, many of those childhood interests, in fact, can be applied in a way that’s practical and has high earning potential.
Like arts and crafts? Consider welding and create beautiful, unique features such as ornate gates. Like being a leader? Site safety technicians have great communication skills and lead by example. Like building LEGO sets? Build with bricks in real life by becoming a stone mason.
With a higher graduation rate — 93 percent compared to the national rate of 80 percent — students in high school CTE programs are getting a head start on reaching their dreams.
Your interests can be the basis of a satisfying career and can help you follow your dreams based on a strong foundation.
With 16 Career Clusters® and over 79 pathways, CTE delivers a range of career options and has choices to appeal to a wide variety of interests. From law and public safety to agriculture and natural resources to manufacturing and construction, you can earn industry certifications, credentials and degrees.
Only three out of ten jobs require a bachelor’s degree or higher — the remaining seven need a credential, certification, craft training or associates degree, which CTE programs deliver. These programs teach the skills that employers are looking for and make it possible to earn certifications and credentials right along with a high school diploma.
In fact, CTE students are more likely to develop skills such as problem-solving, project completion, research, math, communication, time management and critical-thinking during high school. These areas help you become career ready, not just college ready.
Learning how to competently communicate, manage time, and think critically are skills that everybody needs, regardless of your chosen field, and CTE students learn these through hands-on applications in class. You’ll stand out from your peers when you can easily and confidently employ these abilities.
In addition, you’re learning specific skillsets that employers are looking for. Right now, 46 percent of U.S. employers can’t find the skilled employees they need. That number increases when looking at specific industries, such as construction. One in four employers reported having a harder time filling skilled craft roles in 2018, and an estimated 1.4 million skilled workers will be needed by 2022.
Too many high school and college classes teach material you won’t ever apply outside of the classroom. CTE courses focus on actual applicable skills and topics.
Taking advanced CTE classes in high school has proven to provide higher earnings, including a 3.2 percent wage increase for those who concentrated in CTE courses. In fact, ACTE reports that research done in Texas, Colorado and Virginia show that graduates with a technical or applied science associate degree out earned bachelor degree holders by $2,000 to $11,000. ACTE breaks it down further:
What’s even better then earning more money? Starting your career with less debt. Taking CTE courses gives you a jump start on earning an associate degree, and you could even graduate from high school with a certificate or credential. Pursuing a two-year degree instead of a four-year degree can also save you 64 percent more money — annual tuition and fees for a community college is $3,570 compared to $9,9970 for a public university.
Check with your school advisor to see which CTE courses may be offered in your area. With the range of programs available, you may just find that your interests match a career better than you thought.
Click here to learn more about how your interests could be the perfect match for a career in construction.