Douglas Belkin reporting for the Wall Street Journal
Family conversations like the one in Ms. Cruz’s living room are bubbling up around the country as high-school seniors recalibrate their options after the pandemic prompted a historic disengagement from school. The result has been the acceleration of a shift away from the nation’s half-century “college-for-all” model toward a choice of either college or vocational programs—including apprenticeships.
Today, colleges and universities enroll about 15 million undergraduate students, while companies employ about 800,000 apprentices. In the past decade, college enrollment has declined by about 15%, while the number of apprentices has increased by more than 50%, according to federal data and Robert Lerman, a labor economist at the Urban Institute and co-founder of Apprenticeships for America.
Apprenticeship programs are increasing in both number and variety. About 40% are now outside of construction trades, where most have traditionally been, Dr. Lerman said. Programs are expanding into white-collar industries such as banking, cybersecurity and consulting at companies including McDonald’s Corp. , Accenture PLC and JPMorgan Chase & Co.
This is definitely a step in the right direction - there are many jobs that really don’t require a college degree. Most of these can be done by learning on the job. However, there is a danger to this trend. Many young people could be left ill prepared with the fundamental knowledge (mathematics, communications skills, history) needed to progress in their careers. Of course this is what corporations want - a captive workforce that is easy to retain and easily controlled.
I would say for those students who enter college with a clear vision of a profession with realistic ROI on the 4 years and the money spent - college is still the best option. If you are going to college to “find yourself” or as a 4 year right of passage, maybe an internship is the right path for you. You don’t need to go to college to go on drinking binges and all night parties.
The way I look at it - if the path of study you are going to isn’t STEM based or does not require a license of some kind, you might want to consider the apprenticeship path.