I’m 44 years old and I’m still paying off my student loans. Even though I was awarded a scholarship, and my mother helped me pay my way through school as best she could, I still graduated from college with a mountain of debt — as did most of us.
The reality is, college is even more expensive than it was in the early ’90s when I was a college student. I don’t want never-ending student loan repayment to be my kids’ life when they are my age. I don’t want them to be shelling out money every single month until they have grown children of their own.
I don’t want them to stress about how they are going to pay their student loans, while they are trying to afford a decent place to live, and have to choose between toilet paper and food because of college debt.
A lawyer friend of mine loses sleep every night because she’s still paying off hefty students loans and admits she thought her debt from her college education wouldn’t be a problem to pay back after she became a lawyer. But that’s not the case. Now, she has a few teenagers who want to go to college and she’s not sure how they are going to swing it.
I also know a carpenter who didn’t go to college and has zero debt. He built his own home and paid for it as he went. He doesn’t lose sleep at night worrying about all those loans to be repaid and he’s generous with his friends with the extra cash he has.
I feel incredibly lucky my ex-husband knows the plumbing trade and is able to teach our kids his skills. While our marriage didn’t work out, he helped open my eyes to the fact my children don’t need a college education just because “that’s what you do,” which was my belief for a really long time.
Of course, if that’s the path they choose, I will support them. But I want them to know they don’t have to go to college in order to have a happy and successful life — contrary to the messages I was given. I grew up in a time when going to college was just what you did. If you chose a different path, let’s be honest, there was a certain stigma associated with it. I don’t remember anyone talking about the option of going into the trades in the ’90s and now, we need tradesmen now more than ever. NPR reports there are many trade positions sitting empty because our kids are being encouraged to go to traditional college instead.
The fact that my kids’ father has been able to show them the value of learning a trade like plumbing has been a godsend. He’s shown them that there is more than one path to a fulfilling and productive life.
In 2017, the average debt someone carried from attending a 4-year college was $28,650, which is a $300 increase from the year before. That number isn’t going down either. In fact, Forbes reports we are seeing increases that are climbing faster than average wages at an alarming rate.
I have three teenagers and they all dislike school. I don’t have an “academic” in the bunch and that’s okay. I find it hard to believe they are going to want to sign up for another 2-4 years of traditional college. I never thought I’d say this, but I hope they all go into the trades.
I hope they learn a valuable skill they will always be able to fall back on, even if they do eventually decide to go to a post-secondary school or choose a different career path at some point in their life.
My oldest son got a taste of being in the trades last summer. He worked with his dad and was able to earn enough cash to buy the car he’d been wanting since he was 10 — and had cash leftover. He was happy, felt like he was helping people, was never bored, and was paid well. He’s already earning hours to go towards his plumbing license so he can run his own company, and he’s only 16. If that doesn’t sound like a dream job, I don’t know what does.
He enjoys physical activity and putting things together. He figured if he worked 40 hours a week, he’d be able to afford his own condo in our area with plenty of money left over for food, fun, and car maintenance.
Trade school is a much more affordable option than traditional college, and it’s a fact the trades are in high demand and there is money to be made. But more importantly, I want my kids to be happy and not just follow the crowd and sign up for an educational commitment that is going to cost them a ton of money simply because they think it’s what you’re supposed to do.