Push to 'go to college' hits trades hard - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

Push to 'go to college' hits trades hard

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MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Is college still a good investment? As the job outlook for graduates continues to decline and the cost of that four year degree continues to climb, you'd think trade schools would be busting at the seams.

But the push to get every kid in college has been so relentless, it has created a labor shortage of plumbers, electricians and just about anyone you might need when something breaks.

You want to know why it's so expensive to hire a plumber, electrician, heating and cooling techs, those in the trades? Because these are dying breeds.

Our culture sees these positions as little more than second class careers, what those who can't get a four year degree are forced to do.

As a result of this pressure to "go to college", the trades have taken a hit.

Yet, even those with careers dependant on your kids getting into college have their doubts about the universal value of a degree.

Dr. Robert Sheehan is the Provost at Coastal Carolina University. "We had been on a track that seemed to say college was necessary for all individuals in order to be successful in life. I certainly don't believe that any longer."

When you get to a place like Horry Georgetown Technical College what you find are classes filled with students who spent time pursuing that coveted four year degree. Then, as they will tell you, they got smart.

Kinsey Boston wishes he'd figured it out sooner. He certainly felt the pressure to get a four year degree. What he got instead was thousands in debt before realizing college wasn't for him. He's convinced the same was true of many of his friends who stuck with it.

"From the people that I know that do have a four year degree they're not doing anything with it and it's hard for them to find jobs in the field of work they have that degree in," says Boston.

Chances are Kinsey will graduate from Horry Georgetown Tech's HVAC program after one year of study, at a cost of less that $3,000. His starting salary at one of a dozen companies that will offer him a position will be close to $30,000 a year.

Jerry Britt is Kinsey's instructor. "I want the industry coming in and all but arm wrestling to get my students, and they are."

Britt can't supply the need for HVAC techs fast enough for Grand Strand and Pee Dee businesses that desperately need them. And he knows why.

"I've had councilors from the high schools tell me that if I tell little Johnny that he needs to go to tech and get into that heating and air program because that's what he loves to do, mom and dad are gonna call up and say no! Little Johnny is going to Clemson."

Steve Beatty runs one of the Grand Strand's most successful plumbing companies. Fifteen years ago he was clearing pipes, fixing toilets and replacing sewer lines. This engineer with a masters degree saw the future and it wasn't what he learned in college.

Beatty admits no one grows up wanting to be a plumber. He now has a staff of 40. Replacing just one of them is a major ordeal.

"When we go to career day at the schools or something there's a lot going on but when we're trying to tell them what a plumber does or air conditioning," Beatty says, "it's really hard to keep their attention."

Truth is few parents or students look beyond what's in ads like these, beyond the bragging rights that come with holding up a $100,000 piece of paper, beyond what society considers what a winner looks like.

"Right now, going to college and taking out a loan for $25,000 for your first year is of questionable sense if there's anything other than the dedication of the student to persevere," says CCU Provost, Dr. Robert Sheehan.

Sheehan also agrees there are thousands of students at his school and most others who don't belong there.

Students like Keoni O'Connor learned that the hard way… three semesters, thousands wasted, and now a path into a trade that just wasn't offered as a dignified option.

"When people's heat goes out in the winter they're not going to call an historian, you're gonna call one of us. All the historian has is a four year degree in how cold he's gonna be."

Six percent of high school graduates today want a career in the trades. This as the need for plumbers, electricians, heating and cooling techs will increase another 25 percent next year alone.

College still makes sense for thousands of students, while on any campus you chose, there are thousands more who are only there because it's what someone else wants them to do.

The fact remains that the average college graduate will earn about a million dollars more over a lifetime than the person who has no degree. So, there's no question college has its benefits.

It's also a fact that the trades are one of the few industries that will continue to see a labor shortage even in times of high unemployment, like these.

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