College not for everyone

Kent Ellis


The back-to-school season brings a sense of excitement and wonderment for parents and families for the year ahead. However, juniors and seniors nearing the conclusion of their time in the local public schools are making decisions for education and careers that will impact the rest of their lives.

Unfortunately, we don’t always provide them the best advice.

For decades now, too many young adults have been driven towards four-year (or more) colleges. For many, this is the right path, but with 41 percent of enrollees never graduating and 25 or even 48 percent of graduates being overqualified in their eventual career fields, the higher education system clearly isn’t returning value to the bulk of those entering it.

These students need guidance to better options and the health of our state and national economies need young adults to find valuable skills and knowlege for the workplace.

The need for skilled workers is growing and we must prepare our students for these opportunities, especially in North Dakota. Often times, these positions (pay) incredibly well. In our region, implement dealers have made the benefits of attending NDSCS for diesel technology, where in only two years, young adults can find opportunities to immediately make $50,000-$70,000 upon exit.

Similar opportunities exist throughout North Dakota at fast-growing small and large companies. For instance, the oil and gas industry will need as many as 70,000 new workers in the coming decades. More notably, all industries will require more technical skills as automation enhances and replace jobs. Fortunately, our state has strong two-year colleges and training centers, as well as apprenticeship programs, able to train the electricians, mechanical, facility operators and other needed positions in the Bakken, coal country, and manufacturing sector.

The shift to skills-based education doesn’t mean a young adult never receives a bachelor’s or higher degree. It means they are given the opportunity to successfully earn skills needed for jobs today and they may continue to advance their education over their careers. However, via this pathway, they are able to understand their career ambition better to improve the value of their education, and avoid the pitfalls of an expensive, yet uncompleted college journey.

Finally, while it is true that college brings success to those who graduate, those who succeed most tend to have earned degrees with tangible skills, such as engineering and computer science. In fact, when comparing the skilled workforce with liberal arts graduates, the skilled workforce tends to earn greater income.

So as you or your children make these decisions over the coming year, please remember there are many pathways to both financial success and learning, and that the skilled trades are one of them.