What’s next? It’s a question we all ask ourselves, but in recent decades, the career pathway for high school students was somewhat of a one-way street. College. The mantra “college is the route to success” has grown louder and more insistent. Is it drowning out other possibilities for you, other career pathways that you are interested in pursuing? Let’s change the conversation! When you’re thinking about what’s next, remember that there are multiple pathways open to you – including vocational education and training.

Bachelor’s or Bust

College is a terrific pathway to exciting, rewarding, and high-paying careers: in fact, according to research from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, college grads earn an average of $30,000 more per year than their non-college educated counterparts. Sounds good, right? But….

career pathwaysthe average cost for one year of college (tuition only):

  • Public four-year (in-state): $9970
  • Public four-year (out-of-state) $25,620
  • Private four-year: $34,740

After grants, loans, and other forms of assistance, the “net price” you (and/or your parents) pay is about $14,610 for private four-year schools and about $4000 for public four-year institutions per year.

College grads carry an average of $31,172 in debt, which takes between 10 – 30 years to pay off. They also incur the “opportunity cost” – or the income they lose out on by taking four years out of the workforce. According to the New York Fed, this amounts to about $120,000.

On the other hand, the average cost of a vocational education is about $33,000 – less than one year’s worth of private college. Many programs run for two years, and some are even shorter. Students are eligible for loans, grants, and other sources of financial aid. Even better, if you’re already working, your employer may offer tuition reimbursement. This reduces the cost of education and allows you to begin working much sooner.

When College-for-All Backfires

career pathwaysThe majority of American high school students (70%) go on to a four-year college. But many hit a dead-end or at least several speed bumps:

  • Less than 66% graduate with a degree
  • 30% drop out in their first year
  • 53% of grads are unemployed or underemployed
  • More than one-third of college graduates end up in jobs they could have had without a degree
  • 37% of employed college graduates are working in jobs that only require a high school education

It is important to remember that earnings studies typically look at college grads versus high school grads without vocational training. When you pursue career and technical educational pathways, you increase your skills, work readiness, and, of course, earning power.

Opportunities to Explore Various Options

College is a great, viable pathway – for many – but we can’t force a one-size-fits-all “solution” on learners with different skills, aptitudes, talents, and goals. If you start college and it’s not the right fit for you, you may feel like a failure.

Let us be loud, clear, and unambiguous: you are not a failure. A degree program may not be the right place for you. That’s it. You can (and we suspect, you will) thrive in a field that better suits your abilities and interests.

When skilled trade options are pushed to the margins, it costs not only individuals who could excel in these areas, it impacts companies and the economy as a whole. Facing a critical shortage of skilled trade workers, now is not the time to cut back on career and technical education. It’s time to bring it back and to allow folks to explore it as a viable career path.

Remember, though: college and the trades do not need to be mutually exclusive. There’s no reason these pathways cannot intersect, whether now or in the future. Say you build your career in a trade, and then take classes to earn a degree (maybe even in education – so you can teach trade classes to the next generation!). This can open up even more opportunities for growth.

Hub & Spoke: Illustrating the Career Pathways Possibilities

The point is that pathways can be linear, parallel, two-way streets, scenic vistas, or straight shots to a great job. Our goal at Hub & Spoke is to ensure that no one hits a dead-end because they do not have access to opportunities to explore all their options and start planning their own routes.

We offer a one-of-a-kind space to highlight the possibilities of going into the skilled trades, raise awareness of diverse career paths, and provide hands-on, experiential learning opportunities that drive engagement and passion. It’s a place to explore, to learn, and to develop a plan for what’s next.

The Hub & Spoke Institute partners with companies, governments, schools, businesses, and communities to help build tomorrow’s trade leaders today. Ready to get involved?


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8100 E 106th Street, Fishers, IN 46038