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Skilled trades offer the best ROI in a weak economy

The American Enterprise Institute – a conservative Washington, DC think tank – called 2-year Associate of Arts degrees a “pathway to nowhere.” In 2018, the AEI noted that just 10% of students who earn A.A. degrees complete a bachelor’s degree within six years. That would be forgivable if a 2-year transfer degree meant more job opportunities or higher salaries for the degree holders. It does not.

Politics aside, there’s a point here – which is that 2-year technical education programs have the most economic impact for students and the best ROI for the community. Turning away from technical education programs, especially in a weak economy – is a mistake. Similarly, so is paring down technical curricula to teach only a narrowly tailored skill set.

Skilled trades programs offer the highest income-to-investment ratio of any professional occupation. Most high wage jobs require 4 -14 years of post-secondary education. A bachelor’s degree earned entirely at a four-year public institution in Michigan can cost $50,000 or more in tuition and fees alone. Room and board (or off-campus housing) can easily double this cost. Adding a master’s degree could bump the overall cost of credentialing by as much as $100,000. The average time to complete a Ph.D is 8 years, at an average cost of $30,000 per year. In comparison, student can often complete skilled trades programs in 2 years at a total cost of less than $10,000.

For a recovering economy, there is no better mission than to produce employment-ready graduates quickly and cost-effectively. As we recover from this recession, Washtenaw County cannot afford to have WCC produce graduates with few marketable skills.

Tomorrow, I’ll look at what seems to be the WCC administration’s take on technical education, and why that’s particularly troublesome for Washtenaw County.

Photo Credit: Bytemarks, via Flickr