Is college for everyone?

August 15, 2008
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Parents and teachers for more than a generation have steered students toward college and white-collar work, and few states need the graduates more than Indiana, which has one of the lowest levels of college attainment in the country.

Lost in the attention, though, are jobs that donâ??t require a bachelorâ??s degree but still offer wages well above what many college grads earn.

Manufacturers often complain of being overlooked. So do electric utilities.

Increasingly, coal mining companies are joining the fray. Theyâ??re desperate for employees as baby boomers retire and the country increasingly turns to coal to meet its electricity needs.

Yet, the industry suffers from a stigma of black grime and pick axes, says Nat Nolan, president of the Indiana Coal Council, a trade group of mine companies.

The work still isnâ??t clean, and most of the new jobs are in underground mines. But the pick axes were traded for mechanized equipment and computers long ago, and safety is much improved from the explosion-ridden days of the past.

Mining companies are offering entry-level pay of $50,000 a year to workers who hold nothing more than high school diplomas. A couple of years of electrical training pushes the figure to about $70,000, and a few years of experience can result in a six-figure salary. Thatâ??s more than most beginning lawyers earn.

For people who simply donâ??t want to go to college, or know they arenâ??t college material, has the value of a college education been oversold?
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  • The jobs you describe are some of the most dangerous and least desired jobs out there.

    Most college graduates are smart enough not to seek dangerous, dead end jobs located hundreds of feet down in coal mine and up on high voltage electrical lines during a big storm.

    Coal Miners and Electric Company Lineman deserve their compensation, but so do the more educated and better compensated leaders of the coal and electrical companies.
  • You forgot probably the best compensated job that doesn't require higher education.

    The military.
  • No, college is not for everyone and never should have been viewed in that light.

    It is very disturbing however that the culture of blacks in the US today lets
    so many of this important group fail to finish high school.
  • A few weeks ago, I walked through a modern, clean manufacturing plant in Pendleton that builds aluminum and steel scaffolds for big projects such as industrial shows and concerts. The owner lamented that he could put three more welders to work immediately, but he had too few applicants. He said his beginning workers told him their high school guidance counselors stress college -- or a life of flipping burgers. His jobs pay $14 an hour, plus benefits, to start and require creative thinking on custom jobs. Not a bad way to start for someone with some welding know-how.
  • Potentially dangerous, yes. But as the author rightly says, the coal mining industry is barely a shadow of its past. And there is insistence in some circles to paint the industry in the same light that it was in the 1920's. The media has provided a great disservice to the public by doing precisely that. Today, miners are thoroughly trained in the classroom as well as on the job. Without reservation, I have no trouble saying that the coal industry is among the best trained workforces in terms of safety and health. Least desirable jobs?....hardly....not when you start out with full medical and retirement and roughly 50K/yr.
  • This may very well be one of the most ignorant, self-aggrandizing comments I've read recently:

    Most college graduates are smart enough not to seek dangerous, dead end jobs located hundreds of feet down in coal mine and up on high voltage electrical lines during a big storm.

    I never cease to be amazed at the holier-than-thou manner in which many of my peers display themselves. I suppose there's no danger of any non-college graduates taking offense to such comments, though. After all, surely THOSE people don't read the IBJ online...if they can read at all, eh, Bing?
  • I am a non-college graduate and work in a highly specialized field. Because I don't have a degree, I make about half of the salary of someone who does the exact same job. Now what's wrong with THAT picture? Oh, and I think I'm smart enough not to grab a power line in a lightning storm.... As if my salary were not enough to degrade me as it is! (nod to Mama)

    Just because someone dumps thousands of dollars into a school does NOT make them any smarter, it only gets them paid more!
  • Reguardless, College should atleast be made avalible (financially) to those who desire to continue their education. My aunt has the intellegance to continue but never had the money to obtain that degree. This is truely an @$$ backwards society. If you have money, you CAN get a higher education, if you don't- then tough (insert your favorite word here).

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