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Real Money, Right Now

Jennifer Ramirez.JPG

Four years ago, Jennifer Ramirez, who was twenty years old at the time, received some bad news from her manager at work. Due to the impact of Covid, they had to let her go. It was a difficult time for her, but sometimes what seems like a setback can actually be a setup for something greater. While at home, she received an email from Builders Bridge, an organization that helps students explore and enter careers in the homebuilding industry. Builders Bridge was offering $15 per hour for students to receive on-the-job training in the homebuilding industry. Since she had some experience helping her father with construction projects, she decided to explore the opportunity as an electrician helper.


Three years later, Jennifer became the youngest and only female crew leader at Charlotte Lanehart Electric, earning around $62,000 a year. Stories like Jennifer’s are becoming more common place as high school students (and parents) are re-evaluating the merits of a traditional college education.  There are several reasons:


  • Cost: The price of a traditional education has skyrocketed over the last two decades.  From 2001- 2021, the average annual tuition costs at a public four-year institution rose almost four times as fast as inflation.[1]

  • Debt Load: According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the average amount of student loan debt borrowed for a four-year bachelor's degree was over $30,000 in the academic year 2019-2020. Shockingly, when viewed through a racial lens, the statistics are even more staggering. On average, Black and African American college graduates owe $25,000 more in student loan debt than their white college counterparts. [2]

  • AI:  In the future, artificial intelligence is expected to replace thousands of jobs that require a college degree. However, jobs in the trades are expected to continue to thrive. While an AI-powered assistant like ChatGpt may be able to replace a financial analyst, it is not yet capable of running electrical wiring in a house.

  • ROI:  Starting salaries for certain degrees like engineering, computer science, and finance can range from $65,000 to more than $150,000. However, there are several other degrees such as liberal arts, communications, education, hospitality, and fine arts that might offer a great college experience but provide very little in terms of actual salary. As a result, the return on investment in college education for these degrees can be quite poor.

  • Labor Demand: According to the NAHB, the median age of a construction worker is 42. The current workforce is aging out and there are not enough young people entering the industry to satisfy the demand for labor. Forbes suggests that by 2028, over three million skilled trade jobs will remain vacant. Furthermore, some students are concerned about entering a crowded job market that has too many workers and not enough jobs. 


There is no denying that obtaining a college education still plays a crucial role in achieving financial stability. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2021, individuals with a bachelor's degree earned a median income of $61,600, which is 55% higher than the median income of those who only completed high school, which was $39,700. However, college is not the only viable option for securing financial stability.

This doesn’t mean you should abandon your plans for college and become a tattoo artist or ironworker apprentice. However, if college is not an option for you or you are unsure of its fit in your life, you are not alone. Thousands of teens are looking at trades to build a future free from the burden of debt and primed with the opportunity to make real money, right now.


Check out this video if you’re still curious about trade school vs traditional college.


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