Building Blocks For Your Future: What’s The Better Value, College Or Trade School?

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blackgradsCollege ain’t for everybody and God bless the child who figures this out and makes their own way through getting a four year or post doctorate degree, obtaining a trade or simply opening their own business right out of high school.

Many years ago I attended a New Year’s Eve party in my hometown of Memphis, TN, and as the clock struck midnight I, with a handheld camera in tow, went up to several guests in attendance and asked them about their New Year’s resolutions. Of course, I got a few comments and statements about some wanting to lose weight, save more money and “upgrade,” however, one gentleman in attendance had a laundry list of goals he planned on achieving in the New Year which included getting his degree.

Must Read: New Study Shows Black College Grads Have Double The Unemployment Rate

When I inquired about what he would be studying he said, “heating and air conditioning.” At that point in the video, you can clearly see where I lowered the camera and asked in a half confused/half intoxicated manner, “Huh?” With excitement in his voice he continued to tell me about his plans on getting his degree in heating and air conditioning, opening up his own business and “making dollars.” This confused me, and let me tell you why.

I had just graduated from a five-year MBA program and was in my first year of law school. My entire life I had been groomed to attend a four-year institution of higher learning, secure an internship, graduate and ultimately accept a high paying job months before commencement. I had been prepared to enter corporate America come hell or high water, and even my detour to law school did not prove a total deviation from the plan of obtaining additional education to achieve a higher pay check from a 9 to 5 full-time job.

Looking back on things, this man, who I looked at with such confusion well over 10 years ago because his plans of obtaining a degree did not include “traditional college,” may actually have been on to something and be retired by now.

Back in 2012, while speaking to some workers in Wisconsin, President Barack Obama stated:

A lot of parents, unfortunately, maybe when they saw a lot of manufacturing being offshored, told their kids you don’t want to go into the trades, you don’t want to go into manufacturing because you’ll lose your job. Well, the problem is that what happened — a lot of young people no longer see the trades and skilled manufacturing as a viable career. But I promise you, folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree. Now, nothing wrong with an art history degree — I love art history. (Laughter.) So I don’t want to get a bunch of emails from everybody. (Laughter.) I’m just saying you can make a really good living and have a great career without getting a four-year college education as long as you get the skills and the training that you need.

I’ll be damned if our President did not make a valid point!

Though many surveys and studies have suggested that those who have graduated from college tend to earn more over their lifetime than those who have not, this recent recession and slow market for new college graduates makes me wonder if the tide is not shifting, or has not already shifted, in favor of trade school attendance versus that of a traditional four year institution. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am a very strong advocate for those who desire college to actually attend, however, is a college degree necessary to acquire and enjoy the American Dream? I don’t think so.

As stated in a recent Forbes.com article, “Going to college guarantees you a lot of expense, both in money spent and time that could have been used differently, but it does not guarantee you a job that pays well enough to cover your costs. In truth, it doesn’t guarantee you any sort of job.”

I later learned after exorbitant amounts of student loans that I did not want to work in traditional corporate America. I also later learned, after even more exorbitant amounts of student loans that I did not want to work in Big Law, but on my own, as my own boss. I most definitely needed a law degree to become an entrepreneur in my field, however, as I see the examples of cousins, brothers and friends who chose a different route other than college, it has become evident to me that the true definition of success is being the best you can be in whatever field you work in. Whether or not that requires no degree, a high school degree, college degree and/or post doctorate is totally up to you and your goals. I cherish the experiences, lessons and knowledge I acquired with my additional eight years of learning, but I can’t necessarily state that it has positioned me to be better and/or gain more fiscally than someone who has not.

So what do you think is better in today’s market? Learning a trade or attending a four year institution of higher learning?

Rashida Maples, Esq. is Founder and Managing Partner of J. Maples & Associates (www.jmaplesandassociates.com). She has practiced Entertainment, Real Estate and Small Business Law for 9 years, handling both transactional and litigation matters. Her clients include R&B Artists Bilal and Olivia, NFL Superstar Ray Lewis, Fashion Powerhouse Harlem’s Fashion Row and Hirschfeld Properties, LLC.

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