As individuals, it is important that we take the reins when it comes to forging our own paths in life. For a long time, conventional wisdom told us that without a college degree, our options in our adult lives would be severely limited. But as our modern world continues to change, so has the old way of doing things. Where once a degree may have ensured that graduates would transition immediately from the collegiate world to the professional world, this is no longer the case.
More and more, college graduates are realizing that their costly college degrees may not hold the value they were hoping for and counting on to help make their professional lives successful. Since everyone was convinced that college educations always ensured success, more young people began enrolling. With more people seeking access to college, the federal government joined the game and began increasing the amount of federal aid available for students.
But this was not the great solution that students were hoping for. Instead, this increase in access to college has inflated the value of degrees, but that is not the worst aspect of the situation. Since many young people have to take our large student loans in order to attend college, they graduate college already tied down with massive debt that they have no means of paying off without a job. And when you are competing against others in the job market, all of whom are equally qualified and hold the same degrees as you do, securing a position is not as simple as it sounds.
But opting out of a traditional college education is not in any way a reflection of one’s own intellect, and one young woman, Raelee Nicholson, is living proof of this.
A Different Path
On paper, Raelee Nicholson would seem like the perfect candidate for a four-year college. Scoring in the 88th percentile on her college boards and receiving straight A’s in all of her honors courses, Nicholson is an excellent student. But as summer approaches and her years spent at her public high school in the south of Pittsburgh come to an end, Nicholson is not getting ready to start at a four-year university. In fact, she isn’t even planning on enrolling at a community college.
Instead, Nicholson has opted not to seek a traditional college education. After she wraps up her high school career, she plans to enroll in a two-year technical program that will allow her to work as a diesel mechanic once certified. Nicholson built her first car with her cousin when she was 14. It was this experience that triggered her desire to work with cars for a living. “We worked on it the entire summer and when we got it running it was the best feeling in the world,” she said. “I really like working with my hands,” Nicholson said.
And while many soon-to-be college students are blindly starting college without any solidified plans for the future, the adults in Nicholson’s life have not all be supportive of her decision.
Nicholson told the Wall Street Journal:
“My dentist told me to (work on cars) as a hobby, but she kept telling me with my potential I should really go to college.”
But this negative feedback did not end with her dentists. Nicholson has been approached by teachers and guidance counselors at her school, each telling her to rethink her decision to take an alternative path in her education. For the adults in her life, who are unfamiliar with realities now facing college-aged students, Nicholson’s decision is a slap in the face. After all, how could someone so smart and studious not want to attend a four-year university?
But this type of attitude helps no one, especially young students looking for guidance. Where Nicholson’s teachers and mentors see this as her not living up to her potential, it is their frame of mind that is limited not Nicholson’s future.
Becoming a diesel mechanic is nothing to scoff at. Where there is market demand there exists the opportunity to create value. Imagine the consumers, in need of a mechanic, who will have their wants met because of the services provided by Nicholson. Not to mention, a certification in this field does not mean that Nicholson will “only” reach the status of mechanic during her career.
Teachers and Administrators Just Don’t Understand
With this certification, she could potentially start her own business someday, creating even more value for more people. And by owning her own company, she would also become a creator of jobs, something the market is always in need of. With more jobs created, more people have the opportunity to create even more value. The adults in Nicholson’s life should not be so narrow-minded about her decision. Instead, they should embrace the ability of Nicholson to think outside of the box when it comes to her education.
The principal of the North Montco Technical Career Center, Dawn LeBlanc, commented on Nicholson’s situation:
“Parents come from a generation where everyone was pushed to go to college and the tech schools were for the bad kids.”
Not to mention, for those students who do choose college, 40-50 percent will never actually graduate. With two-year programs like the one Nicholson plans to participate in, completion rates are higher, allowing students to get the training they need and then get right into the workforce.
But Nicholson hasn’t let the criticism bother her. To those who question her decision, she reminds them that, “Diesel mechanics charge $80 an hour.”