As Blue-Collar Jobs Fade Higher Education Becomes Critical

Every year the economic demand for workers who have some level of higher education grows by 3 percent, but the number of college graduates has only grown by 1 percent per year. This gap has created a demand for more college graduates, which is why those with a college degree make 74 percent more than high school graduates, explains Anthony P. Carnevale in his article “The Real Education Crisis Is Just Over That Cliff.”

“As the economic recovery limps along, it is increasingly clear that most of the jobs that required only a high-school education, especially those male blue-collar jobs, are gone—and they are not coming back,” says Carnevale. As less jobs are available that do not require higher education, the demands and skill sets of our students must change. If we need more students entering a program to further their education beyond high school, we must align K12 systems and colleges. Just as elementary school leads to middle school and middle school leads to high school, the high school to college transition needs to become standard in the minds of today’s students.

There are many potentially profitable roads students can take who are thinking about pursuing higher education. In undergraduate programs, bachelor’s degrees create the most options, however, a four-year degree is not for everyone, at least not at age eighteen. An associates’s degree or certificate program might be the best fit for high school grads who don’t have a passion, financial security, or time for a four-year degree but who have a desire to be skilled in a trade.  Some students need to spend time maturing and that maturity can take the shape of working full-time as a short order cook, being a Certified Nursing Assistant, running a yard clean up business or being a nanny. Often these jobs provide the motivation a non-college inclined student might need to realize that they don’t want to spend the next fifty years in that type of serial work making minimum wage.

A recent study shared on USA Today shows the career benefits of any continued education. On average, those who have a certificate earn 20 percent more than those with a high school diploma. In fact, some workers who earn their certificate will make more than those with a bachelor’s.

  • Males who have earned a certificate make more than 40 percent of men who hold associate’s and more than 24 percent of men who hold a bachelor’s. Females with a certificate earn more than 34 percent of those with associate’s and 24 percent with a bachelor’s degree.
  • Certificates in computer and information systems are highly profitable for men and women. Men in the field earn about $72,500 a year, which is more than 72 percent of those with associate’s make and 54 percent more than those with a bachelor’s. Women earn approximately $56,664, which is more than 75 percent of what women make with an associate’s degree and 64 percent with a bachelor’s.

If students decide they want to further their education beyond a certificate, these programs can act as a stepping stone for many. A third of certificate holders will go on to earn an associate’s or bachelor’s, according to the study. Of course, those students who have interests, activities, volunteer experiences, and internships will have a leg up on the students who don’t.

As more blue-collar positions become obsolete, it’s even more critical that students graduate from high school and have the resources to continue their education. High school graduates have many options and might need help navigating their best decision. Encourage students to pursue higher education of any variety in both the short and/or the long term. Emphasize options.   A certificate, associate’s, or bachelor’s is likely the most solid beginning they can create for themselves.


“The Real Education Crisis Is Just Over That Cliff,” by Anthony P. Carnevale. 10 June 2012. The Chronicle. Accessed on 11 June 2012.

“Study Examines Vocational Certificates’ Big Rewards,” by Mary Beth Marklein. 6 June 2012. USA Today. Accessed on 11 June 2012.

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