Can America Curb its College Habit?

by Hannah Rosenberg 

I started working at TranZed Apprenticeship Services (TAS) in late September. It’s been my second ‘real’ job since I graduated from the University of Maryland in 2015. In the little over 4 months I’ve been here, conversations about equal opportunity, workforce development and un- and underemployment have flipped my college-only mindset on its head.

Growing up, it wasn’t a question of if, it was a question of where. Where I would go to college, what my major would be—you know the drill. Going out on a limb here, but I’d say a large majority of young people in the U.S. experience the same thing.

Evidence of America’s obsession with college is everywhere. From movies and TV shows set on the quad to mandatory college fairs and “Path to University” posters hanging in the hallways as early as elementary school, it’s pretty hard not to think that it’s college or bust.

Though well-intended, the push to send every young person to college has created an entire generation of Americans so set on a college degree, that in many cases we’re willing to put ourselves tens-of-thousands of dollars in debt with no guarantee of securing a job after graduation.

High Expectations, Higher Debt

In 2016, more than two-thirds of college graduates graduated with debt- $35,000 on average- a number that’s risen 300% in the past two decades (Time Money). That brings the total to approximately 42 million Americans with combined student loan debt of 1.3 trillion dollars (and counting).

Much of the conversation surrounding the college debt crisis focuses on reducing tuition costs and increasing scholarship opportunities. Of course, these are worthy and necessary initiatives, but there’s something these conversations fail to recognize. According to a study conducted by the Center for College Affordability, around 48 percent of employed U.S. college graduates work in jobs that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggests require less than a four-year college education. Eleven percent of employed college graduates are in occupations requiring more than a high-school diploma but less than a bachelor’s, and 37 percent are in occupations requiring no more than a high-school diploma.

Apprenticeship as an Alternative

Basically, we’re sending more people to college than is necessary in the existing workforce landscape and many of them are going into debt because of it. Doesn’t make sense, does it? The creators of the study work for a place called the Center for College Affordability and even they predict a decline in college applicants and a subsequent increase and interest in the “development of new methods of certifying occupation competence.”

Ring any bells?

Programs like apprenticeship, which build skills and experience though a combination of on-the-job and classroom learning, make sense – especially when you consider that while 87 percent of recent grads feel well-prepared to enter the workforce, only 50 percent of hiring managers agree (Payscale). Colleges and universities focus on expansion of mind and knowledge, but often neglect practical skills building.  This leaves graduates unprepared to enter a workforce in which 90 percent of employers prefer to hire candidates with actual experience (NACE survey data). Exceptions exist, of course; co-op programs at universities like Drexel and Northeastern incorporate workplace learning into the curriculum to help combat the skills gap, but without more programs like this, we will continue to produce over-educated, unskilled young people with high expectations and even higher debt.

If it sounds like I’m knocking college, that’s not my aim. If anything, my time at TAS has taught me there is not a singular path that is better or more right than another. There is true value in a degree, but there is also value in investigating and developing alternatives. In a world where the pace of innovation is outpacing traditional post-secondary education, we need common-sense solutions that can keep up.

2017: The Year of the Apprentice

  1. Apprenticeship is good for everyone: the economy, the community, the workforce
  2. Apprenticeship programs work to close the skills gap and reduce un- and underemployment by equipping apprentices with the skills and experience businesses require
  3. Apprenticeships aren’t just for the trades: they’re available in over 1000 occupations including TAS’ current offerings in IT, Digital Marketing and Cyber Security
  4. State-level rebates and tax incentives are available to most employers that hire apprentices
  5. Apprentices are paid, full-time employees from day one, allowing participants to develop their skills without incurring debt
  6. Apprenticeship offers another option for people to secure sustainable, meaningful employment outside traditional routes
  7. Apprentices complete 144 hours of classroom instruction, the content and delivery of which is tailored to complement the 2000 on-the-job hours and enhance the workplace experience
  8. Program mentors work with both the employer and the apprentice to ensure that appropriate and timely progress is made
  9. Apprentices earn nationally recognized credentials through TAS from the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (DLLR)
  10. Those who complete apprenticeship programs earn $300,000 more on average throughout their lifetime than those who don’t
  11. Apprenticeship programs help recruit and develop a highly-skilled workforce for employers
  12. Training plans are flexible to fit both the employer and the apprentices’ needs
  13. Apprenticeship provides a reliable pipeline of candidates that have committed to the development of their skills for a particular role
  14. Apprenticeship improves productivity and increases the bottom line
  15. Apprenticeship reduces recruitment and turnover costs and increases employee retention
  16. Safeguards exist for employers hiring apprentices, i.e. replacement in the event an apprentice has to move or becomes ill
  17. Apprenticeship is an industry-driven and flexible training solution to meet the needs of businesses


Sources: CIPD, U.S. Department of Labor

Do good to help your business do great

Fireworks over Baltimore’s iconic Washington Monument. (Photo courtesy of Erin Finnegan)

Around the holidays, businesses give back. They collect canned food, run coat drives, send Christmas cards to children’s hospitals, you name it. Consumers like to see companies practicing this variety of corporate social responsibility, and they like it even better when it’s practiced year-round.

Reports like Nielson’s “Sustainable Selections: How Socially Responsible Companies are Turning a Profit,” link spending habits and brand loyalty to the perceived level of investment a company makes in its community. Not only did consumers report they would be more likely to spend money with companies that practiced corporate social responsibility—66% said they would spend more money with such companies.

The trend is only increasing. Nielson noted a significant increase in the number of people willing to spend more, up from 55% in 2014 and 50% in 2013. Why? The easy answer: Millennials. Millennials have surpassed baby boomers in terms of population and a significant portion of them are now at spending age.

This new boom has brought an onslaught of research into marketing and advertising best practices among this age group. The findings are helpful for companies looking to invest in their future. Forbes reports that 75% of millennials said that it’s either “fairly or very important that a company gives back to society.” To add weight to this statistic, 60% said that they are “often or always loyal to brands that they currently purchase.”

Translation: companies can build a sustainable customer base by investing in the things millennials care about.

So the next question is: how can companies do this in a way that benefits their shareholders as well as their community?

Here’s a hint: it starts with ‘a’ and ends in ‘pprenticeship.’ You’ve got it. Apprenticeship offers a solution that not only answers consumers’ growing desire to spend money with companies that invest in their community, but also offers significant returns for businesses.

(If you missed our last entry about the benefits of apprenticeship for businesses, check it out here)

Go ahead, ask us how apprenticeship benefits the community. We’ll tell you:

In such a tumultuous political climate, apprenticeship stands out as a viable answer to the problems of un- and under-employment as well as workforce preparedness. An apprentice can come straight out of high school, join our program and get paid a decent wage from the start. This is significant, considering in Baltimore, only “one in five public school graduates matriculates to a four-year college and 16 to 19-year-olds have an unemployment rate of more than 40 percent” (Abell Foundation)

We aim to place 100 apprentices in our first year. This means 100 people who are no longer without a path after high school, no longer stagnating in a dead-end jobs or no longer searching for an employer to accept a degree without real work experience. It also means 100 more jobs filled with candidates that are vetted and trained to specific company standards.

Our program also seeks to serve a diverse population, helping to narrow the achievement gap among working-class and minority groups. We are taking the talent that already exists in these communities and making sure it reaches its full potential. This opens the door to progressing the status of segments of the population that have struggled for generations against institutional barriers such as the exorbitant cost of college.

Companies that have invested in apprenticeship in the UK have been well-rewarded. The Centre for Economic and Business research projected an 18 BILLION pound increase in profit for companies because of apprenticeship in 2015. That equates to approximately 22.7 BILLION DOLLARS.

A significant portion of this number comes from consumers’ perception of apprenticeship as “contributing to society and providing opportunities for young people, with 5 million consumers more likely to make a purchase from an apprentice employer.”

The article goes on to cite that one in four would pay more for goods and services from companies that employ apprentices. How much more? Between 1.2% and 2.0%.

Investing in our program and apprenticeship in general is an investment in the community, in the economy, in your business. Simply put, apprenticeship works.

If you would like to learn more about incorporating apprenticeship into your business, click here.

If you would like to learn more about becoming an apprentice, click here.