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Collegiate Academic Barrier Removal, The Shift to Nondegree Skilled Labor, & the Rise of Apprentice


Collegiate organizations need barrier removal policies to address the excessive and unwarranted college degree program completion requirements to reduce the academic barriers BIPOC community members face in their pursuit to obtain lucrative and gainful employment in specialized fields that require advanced education. Studies show that the requirements to obtain a degree can vary from university to university and department to department within those universities, which serves as evidence as to why degree program completion requirements on a national scale should be reviewed to ensure equitability amongst higher education and adult learner academic expectations for advancement. Additionally, as more high-paying job opportunities become available that do not require a collegiate background and provide on-the-job training for specialized tasks, it is to higher education institutions benefit to institute barrier removal policies to ensure the longevity of their institutions, which is linked to enrollment.


As I recall my college years and the career opportunities available to individuals that did not have a college degree, as well as the associated base pay for such careers, I come to the stark realization that in today's society, there are countless jobs and career pathways for the younger generation in the BIPOC community to endeavor absent of a degree, which is a factor that should be considered when studying the disproportionate number of BIPOC college students when compared to non-BIPOC college students because, in addition to systematic BIPOC student suppression on the collegiate level, public interest as a whole is shifting towards the blue-collar and technician certificate based jobs, because they pay more, offer comparable benefits, and do not come with the burden of student loans, which statistics show is at an all-time high, and on a communal level we can agree driving incentive towards industry-specific skill training certificate programs versus a formal college degree.


Some examples of specialized high-tech and well-paying occupations that do not require or, as of recently, no longer require a college degree are database administrator, pharmacy technician, dental hygienist, paralegal, web developer consultant, travel agent, bookkeeper, geological and petroleum technician, plumber, medical technician, insurance agent, and the mechanic just to name a few. This shift towards removing degree requirements is advocated both on the communal and legislative levels. In 2023 former President Obama shared a Vox article via Twitter that highlighted an intelligent policy that removes unnecessary college degree requirements and places emphasis on reducing barriers to well-paying jobs Degree inflation: Why requiring college degrees for jobs that don't need them is a mistake - Vox. Additionally, American governors of both the republican and democratic parties recently have created an environment for people without college degrees to work for their state government Governors of both parties ni degree requirements for state jobs (nbcnews.com). For example, the governor of Pennsylvania, Gov. Josh Shapiro, eliminated the college requirement for 65,000 government jobs Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro Eliminates Degree Requirement For 65,000 State Government Jobs | The Daily Caller. It is important to note that given the polarized state of the political environment, the republican and democratic parties' ability to work together on this issue and follow through with actionable legislation gives insight into the severity of the need for such legislation.


This news and innovative legislation are both exciting and necessary for the segment of the public that does not seek to obtain an advanced education as it ensures their quality of life. However, this shift drives up tuition costs as college enrollment decreases and triggers college institutions to set inconsequential academic requirements in an effort to create differentiation between an eight-week certificate program and a four-year college degree. Moreover, it is important to note that this shift impacts public interest in higher education as the promise of a high paying and administrative/supervisory job is no longer reserved for college graduates. To be clear, I do agree that the removal of college degrees as an employee requirement for certain well-paying jobs is both necessary and long overdue. However, I would caution everyone, especially the BIPOC community, against abandoning pursuing a college degree as there are many benefits to going to college, especially for a person of color, such as:


● Education and Skills: Going to college can give individuals access to a high-quality education that can help them gain valuable knowledge, skills, and experiences. This can enhance their critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills, making them more competitive in the job market.


● Career Opportunities: A college education gives access to a wide range of career opportunities, including positions that may only be available to those with a degree, such as a doctor, lawyer, surgeon, or veterinarian. Moreover, research has shown that individuals with a college degree tend to earn more over their lifetime than those without a degree.


● Networking: The college provides opportunities for students to connect with professors, peers, and alums who can offer advice, guidance, and support. These connections can be valuable for professional development, career advancement, as well as personal growth.


● Cultural Exposure: College campuses are often diverse as they comprise students from various socioeconomic backgrounds and cultures. Moreover, most collegiate academic settings often require cross-collaboration amongst the student body (group projects). These two key elements imposed upon the student body afford them the unique opportunity to be exposed to different perspectives on a communal level and the opportunity on a professional academic level to create and develop projects through that broadened lens of understanding, which inherently enhances one's ability to work and collaborate with people from varying backgrounds in their professional careers.


● Personal Development: College can be a time for personal growth and self-discovery. It provides opportunities for individuals to develop independence, build self-confidence, and explore their interests and passions.


● Social Mobility: For individuals from historically marginalized communities, a college education can be a pathway to social mobility, allowing them to break the cycle of poverty and achieve economic stability and success.


In addition to speaking on the benefits of college education, it is imperative as a BIPOC community member and former collegiate student to acknowledge the financial piece that comes along with pursuing a college degree and provide strategies for addressing the associated costs.


Strategies for making college or university more affordable:


● Apply for financial aid: Many colleges and universities offer financial assistance to students based on their financial needs. Apply for financial aid, including grants, scholarships, work-study programs, and student loans. You can fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see if you qualify for federal grants, loans, or work-study programs.


● Look for scholarships: Scholarships are a fantastic way to pay for college as they do not carry the requirement to pay back. Moreover, as we are living in the digital age, access to scholarship databases is universally accessible. You can search for scholarships online independently, go through your high school guidance counselor, and reach out to local community organizations. As a former student, I would recommend exhausting all three avenues mentioned.


● Attend a community college: Community colleges are more affordable than four-year universities. You can take general education classes at a community college or earn your associate degree and then transfer to a four-year university to complete your bachelor's degree. This route significantly reduces tuition costs.


● Consider online education: Many colleges and universities offer online courses, which are more affordable than on-campus classes. Additionally, there are schools that are 100% online. You can search the web for online-only schools, which may be more affordable than traditional universities since they do not have the same overhead costs related to operating a building.


● Live off-campus: Living off-campus can be more affordable than living on campus. Living in an apartment or shared housing can save money on accommodation, food, and other expenses.


● Buy used textbooks: Textbooks can be expensive, so look for used books online or in local bookstores. You can also rent textbooks or use e-books to save money.


● Take advantage of student discounts: Many businesses offer discounts to college students, so bring your student ID with you when you shop or dine out.


● Work while you study: If you can balance work and school, consider getting a part-time or full-time job while you learn. This can help you earn extra money to pay for expenses like textbooks and rent and offset some of the costs of tuition, room, and board.


● Choose an in-state school: Attending a school in your home state can be more affordable than attending an out-of-state school as you may be eligible for in-state tuition rates, which are often lower than out-of-state tuition rates.


Overall, going to college can provide a person of color with a range of benefits to enhance their personal, professional, and financial well-being. As shared, there are standard brick-and-mortar colleges, hybrid colleges, as well as 100% online colleges, which makes it imperative to research all your options to determine which school is best for you. Additionally, as discussed, there are multiple proven avenues to offset the cost of tuition. However, that is just a snapshot of what is available to you, so it is crucial to be proactive in finding other ways to reduce costs and create a budget to help manage expenses while in college.


Given the nature of this article, it would be amiss if I did not, in addition to talking about the benefits and career pathway opportunities available to degree-seeking and non-degree-seeking individuals, not also discuss apprenticeships. Recently, the post More Students Are Turning Away From College and Toward Apprenticeships - WSJ in the Wall Street Journal caught my attention and I wanted to take the opportunity in this article to examine the benefit of apprentice programs versus college. Before diving deeper, I would like to highlight that some white-collar training programs have become just as selective as Ivy League universities, which ties into our earlier discussion regarding the public shift from academic pursuits to certificate training programs and how this shift drives the need for institutional differentiation, which can lead to a nonconsequential degree and certificate program requirements imposed on students.


Now, to return to the subject at hand, apprenticeship programs and colleges provide valuable education and training but differ in several ways. Here are some comparisons and contrasts between the two:


● Education and Skills: Apprenticeship programs and colleges provide education and skills training, but the type of education and skills learned can differ. Apprenticeships typically focus on hands-on training in a specific trade or profession, while college degree programs, though focused on a specific field of study, still offer a broader range of academic and theoretical learning. College programs also tend to be more visionary, whereas apprenticeships provide practical training in real-world work environments.


● Career Opportunities: Apprenticeships provide a direct path to employment in a specific field, often with the employer sponsoring the apprenticeship. College degrees can lead to various career opportunities, but the connection between the degree and employment can be less direct. Moreover, some college graduates may have to seek additional specialized training or experience before finding a job in their field.


● Time and Cost: Apprenticeships can be shorter than a college degree program, typically one to five years. College degrees can take four years or more to complete, depending on the student's long-term career objectives. Apprenticeships are often less expensive than colleges, as apprentices are paid for their work while learning.


● Flexibility: Apprenticeships offer more flexibility than college, as they often allow apprentices to work while they learn. This can be particularly beneficial for individuals who cannot afford to take time off from work to attend college. Some college programs typically require full-time attendance or do not offer sufficient night classes, which can be challenging for individuals who need to work to support themselves or their families.


● Credentialing: College degrees provide a recognized credential that can be valuable in the job market. On the other hand, apprenticeships may not provide a recognized certification but offer on-the-job training and work experience that can be valuable to potential employers.


In short, apprenticeship programs and colleges offer different means of obtainment for those seeking to increase their knowledge or skillset and advance their careers in a specific industry. Both can be valuable options for individuals seeking to develop skills and advance their careers, and the choice between the two depends on the individual's goals, interests, and circumstances.


Authored by Dr. Ayo Olufade, Ph.D.

Think STEM Careers! You Have The Opportunity to Create The Future And The Privilege Of Deciding What’s In It! ~ Dr. Ayo Olufade, PhD

Excel in Learning. Excel in Life.


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