No College Degree? No Problem: Why Education Policy Needs to Focus on Career Planning

Roll Call, December 10, 2014 | Go to article overview

No College Degree? No Problem: Why Education Policy Needs to Focus on Career Planning


There is no doubt about it: Statistically speaking, a college degree will offer the average worker a significant wage premium over workers with only a high school diploma. But does that mean that workers with no education beyond high school do not have a chance at well-paying, fulfilling careers? Far from it.

According to a report by CareerBuilder, there are 115 occupations in America that pay $20 an hour or more - and only require a high school diploma. They include postal service carriers ($26.75/hour), real estate brokers ($29.48/ hour), power plant operators ($32.13/ hour), commercial pilots ($35.73/ hour) and transportation, storage and distribution managers ($39.27/ hour).

While a college education is not necessary for these positions, on-the-job training is another matter. Many of these positions require short- to long-term training on the job, while others require apprenticeships. Some also require previous work experience. But the fact remains that they do not require years of expensive college education.

The demand for jobs that require no more than a high school education is surprisingly high, and growing. The Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University predicts that by 2020, 55 million jobs will open up in the economy. Breaking these 55 million new openings up by educational requirements, only 35 percent will require at least a bachelor's degree and only 30 percent will require some college or an associate's degree, while 36 percent will not require education beyond high school. Clearly, the U.S. economy has plenty of needs for those without higher education.

As I have travelled the country speaking with leaders in business, education, and policy, I see the rising demand for jobs that do not require a college degree as an opportunity for ambitious young workers who feel that college is not for them and who would not greatly benefit from the experience (or cost). These are not low- paying jobs or even low-skilled jobs - they are local opportunities that spur local economies and produce engaged, fruitful young members of society.

Progress has been slow, but I applaud Congress for passing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act as a step in the right direction towards closing the skills gap and bringing both educators and business leaders to the same table. …

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