Phi Beta Cons

More Evidence for my “Overselling” Thesis

A friend of mine who does economic consulting work in Oregon and Washington came across my paper “The Overselling of Higher Education” and helpfully sent me the following anecdote:

I was meeting with sheet metal contractors and their union representatives in Seattle. I learned that they could not find enough people to fill their apprenticeship program. Here’s their deal: they need people with solid arithmetic and algebra skills, and good work habits. The person is paid to work as an apprentice, taking some classes at the same time. Classes are free. After 3 to 5 years, the person becomes a journeyman sheet-metal worker. The compensation package is then about $50 an hour, which is both wages and benefits. That works out to about $65k wages and $35 k benefits per year. And the person has no college loans. The bright, ambitious ones can go into management. Yet they cannot fill the apprenticeship program openings. Nobody wants to do blue collar work; everyone has been told to go to college. The high-school counselors are the worst.


According to the conventional wisdom of the education establishment, young people who enroll in college and then take a assortment of courses, often taught by grad students whose motivation and pedagogical skills are questionable, that don’t require much effort to pass, are adding wonderfully to their “human capital.” Conversely, those who might enter an apprentice program and learn how to work with metal, a skill that’s in high demand, are regarded as “leakages” from the educational pipeline.
That makes no sense.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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