Hey Kids! If You’re A ‘So-So’ Student, Skip School And Become A Plumber

shutterstock_117551359__1368969724_142.196.156.251Mayor Bloomberg gave some advice to students on his radio show on Friday: if you’re not that great at academia, skip it and learn a vocation. He may have a point, but it’s a little hard to take seriously. He’s a billionaire. There is such a financial disconnect between him and the average student struggling how to figure out how to afford college and make a living without being bankrupted by loans.

He said on his radio show:

The people who are going to have the biggest problem are college graduates who aren’t rocket scientists, if you will, not at the top of their class,’ he said. Compare a plumber to going to Harvard College – being a plumber, actually for the average person, probably would be a better deal.’‘You don’t spend… four years spending $40,000, $50,000 in tuition without earning income,’ he explained.

There’s quite a spectrum between Harvard College and plumber – but I think he makes a logical point. I just don’t think it solves the current financial crisis students are in.

I don’t know that the solution is that more students need to explore the more affordable vocational school route. I think the solution is that we have to stop gouging our students with ridiculously high loans and over-inflated tuition.

There’s nothing wrong with choosing a vocational school over a college degree. It can be a very wise financial decision. But I can’t help but feel that his comments are totally classist. Basically, if your family has the money – you can do whatever you want. But if you don’t have the luxury of financial stability – you don’t have the freedom to explore your interests. I get that it’s reality – but it just seems like we’re throwing in the towel. Those that want to explore a vocational route should be supported. But those who want to explore higher education shouldn’t be in a position where they have to put themselves in such a menacing financial state to do so.

His advice just feels like a cop out. Hey kids! I know the state of college pricing and funding is a total travesty and sham, but if you can’t afford it, just do something else. Our students deserve more than that, don’t they? Maybe I’m just a hopeless idealist.

(photo: lev radin/ Shutterstock)

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  • Em

    It seems to me, it isn’t that he’s saying if you have tons of money you should go to school, but that if you’re very smart with very good grades. Too many kids just go to college because ‘that’s what you do’. It’s a waste of money for a lot of people. Not everyone can work in a nice office. The world needs plumbers and garbage men, and all of those other ‘gross and dirty’ jobs.

    • Blooming_Babies

      On top of that we need to realize that secretaries, personal assistants, phone support, customer service ect. are not jobs that require degrees, companies have started requiring them because of the abundance of people applying for each job. To go to college and become a car rental agent is insanity.

    • Blueathena623

      Thank you! It’s insane the requirements these days. I am NOT knocking admin assistants whatsoever, but you generally do not need a 4 year degree for that job. I was looking at a job the other day, pretty much entry- level IT work. When I started working in the IT field, this type of job would require a high school diploma, maybe an associates. This job wanted a bachelors, masters preffered. I looked at the salary and laughed/cried. I don’t know how companies have the balls to ask for a masters degree and only pay 21k a year.

    • Tusconian

      I do admin assistant work, and while it SHOULD be something that any high schooler could do, based on the state of our high schools, it just isn’t because high schoolers on a whole graduate with terrible writing skills. And even if these jobs advertised for people with high school degrees, people with AAs and BAs would apply, and generally be chosen anyway.

    • Blueathena623

      True on both accounts. It also seems like no one (I.e. a company) is interested in training people anymore. It used to be expected that you would learn some skills on the job, but now they want you to have every single skill, perfect, because if you can’t hit the ground running on day one you are costing the company money.

    • Blueathena623

      True on both accounts. It also seems like no one (I.e. a company) is interested in training people anymore. It used to be expected that you would learn some skills on the job, but now they want you to have every single skill, perfect, because if you can’t hit the ground running on day one you are costing the company money.

  • Andrea

    I don’t think he was referring to economic class. I took it to mean that college isn’t for everyone. If your grades are so so and going to college will mean that you will be a C average student and graduate with thousands of dollars in debt, it probably IS a better strategy to attend vocational school. There is NOTHING wrong with that.

  • chickadee

    I too read his comment as encouraging those who weren’t particularly academic to look at a vocational school. I have taught students who weren’t interested in being at college but who were there because their friends, parents, or whomever expected them to attend. They were capable but produced lackluster work because it wasn’t what they wanted to do.

    • http://twitter.com/mariaguido Guerrilla Mom

      I completely agree. Admittedly, I am an idealist. I just think that a college education gives you so much more than just career preparation. I think, if approached in the right way, college does so much to prepare you to be a more cultured, well-rounded individual. I just think it sucks that because of the crippling financial situation most students get into, it stops making sense for them to explore it in that way.

    • chickadee

      I tend to be an idealist as well, but I heard on Car Talk last week a discussion between an English teacher at a MA vocational high school discussing the emphasis they place on reading, writing, mathematics, and critical thinking, so I believe they have a place at vocational institutions. I think that in the last 50 years or so, we’ve started seeing college as the default rather than as an option, and certainly vocational institutions tend to be viewed as poor options that produce blue-collar employees with little or no intellectual ability. I know that many European countries take a much different approach to vocational education, and I think it would be valuable if we did the same.

    • Aria

      There are other ways to become a cultured, well-rounded individual than to go get the main college experiences of either binge-drinking on weekends of worrying about paying the rent while going to night classes. I have taken some classes as they interested me, but didn’t get a degree, so I guess that means I can’t have culture. So I guess I’m wasting my time going to museums and being a regular patron of the symphony, musicals, and ballet (for which I also volunteer), and being able to identify the Queen of Night aria in literally one note is further evidence of being uncultured because I didn’t go through college.

      Thank you for enlightening me that that there is only ONE way to obtain education and culture and to become well-rounded. I might have continued wasting my time reading books on early French history and studying millennia-old nautical maps and putting my money into the arts instead of sinking into debt so someone else can tell me how to do it right and grading down if I don’t get the same meaning out of a painting that the teacher does.

      Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go figure out how to pay the $12,000 a year the local community college charges (ironically I just looked into the costs a couple days ago out of curiosity).

    • Rachel Sea

      People who get culture out of college will get it out of any lifestyle. My wife is at a prestigious university, and from what I can tell, for most of the student body it’s just High School, Part 2; the primary difference being that all these kids have cars and access to alcohol.

    • http://www.facebook.com/paul.white.3532507 Paul White

      I wonder if you had me in class…

  • Shores

    Every society needs laypeople and blue collar workers. Part of America’s problem today is that TOO many people think they should have the right to a college education and that it should be free on top of that. Maybe college should be cheaper, but only if they’re more stringent about who gets in. If 80% of high school grads go to college, who’s going to be the plumbers/garbage collectors/construction workers? What college grad will be truly satisfied with a job like that?

  • Lawcat

    I don’t see this as classit at all; it’s pretty good common sense.

    If you’re not a great student, why put yourself in debt when you can learn a trade? If you have money to waste, fine. But a college degree isn’t going to guarantee you a job or success in your career.

    Additionally, you don’t have to go into crippling debt to get a college degree. Know your limits. I put myself through 4 years of private undergrad and then law school. I have $7,000 total in student loans. It can be done.

    The secret no one tells you is that trades can make a lot of money. I’m a corporate attorney, my sister is a hairdresser at a high end salon. Our salaries are within $10k of each other.

    It seems like Mommyish articles recently are trying really hard to find a classiest/racist/feminist/etc bend to an innocuous situation or comment. You all are really reaching.

    • Tea

      This, seriously. My partner is extremely intelligent, and went to trade school after dropping out of traditional university, it just simply suited him, and rebuilding a transmission isn’t exactly a no-brainer job.

      Besides, in our old household, we had 3 people with degrees, 1 with trade certification. Guess who had a job and who was eating ramen :/

    • Aria

      I agree. This article also missed the point of what he’s saying, as evidenced by the last paragraph. He’s not saying, “If you can’t afford it, don’t go,” but rather if your a so-so student who isn’t cut out for the rigors of college, save yourself the debt and go into a trade that will provide a good income and save yourself the money. For too long we’ve been telling high schooler the only way to go is college, and then many drop out of graduate with a ton of debt only to go into a trade beyond that, tacking on more debt for trade school. Then we wonder why people are suffocating trying to repay loans.

      Trades shouldn’t be looked down upon. Tech work can be outsourced (I know from experience, and even trained my replacements), but the fixing of your car or toilet can’t be sent to China or Russia, and even in a down economy, people need to hire people to do this work.

  • Lindsey

    His comments are sound. I’m a high school teacher and it bothers me that we push all kids to go to college but we actually HAVE to do that with the current method by which our schools are “graded.” Part of our score includes the number of students who take the college path (rather than the career path) in high school; the more students on the college path, the higher our score. I live in a big oil community and these kids can graduate from high school, get a job, and immediately make more money than I do after 10 years of teaching.

    We have an excess of college grads; no one should complete college and then have to take a job that requires no college degree. For a lot of kids, vocational school is a better choice.

    • Tusconian

      I know I said this before, but “vocational school” as most people are thinking is practically nonexistent in modern America. Most people seeking those jobs go to community colleges, or are sucked in by for profit “trade schools” that are more expensive than a 4 year degree, completely useless, and generally “guarantee” a job in their field….which often means “cashier at a tire shop” or “answering phones for the plumber.” The idea is sound, but for it to work, you need to do a lot more than tell kids “hey, did you know that you can have well-paying a job that doesn’t require a BA? You’re welcome!” In the past, it was common for high schools to offer vocational training, and vocational schools were more of a thing. These resources are rare now. High income schools don’t want the image of preparing their kids for anything but a high-earning degree, and low income schools don’t want to bother “wasting” the money necessary to support these “superfluous” classes.

  • NJMommy

    I think the attitude and mindset of the person writing this article is part of the problem we have in our country. People seem to have a view point that everyone needs to go to college. Not everyone does… doesn’t matter your economic status. We need all types of people in this world: plumbers, electricians, garbage men, teachers, doctors, etc. We all work together to make our country function. Lately, everyone makes this big push for getting a college education but now we have all these people who are unemployed with a college degree they just spent a huge amount of money on with no actual skills rather than how to study/write a paper.

    Unfortunately also today (or seemingly moreso today, I’m sure people like this have existed all along), kids are not mature enough to have some foresight and think about what they want to do and then research the job market and opportunities that are out there (and I understand not everyone is going to know exactly what they want to do, you are allowed to change your mind, etc, but once you think you have some idea you should do some research!).

    So author, maybe have a more open mind and realize this is not an economist thing. I typically never agree with Bloomberg but on this one issue I do!

    • http://twitter.com/mariaguido Guerrilla Mom

      Sorry – but I think that equating “so-so” student with blue collar worker is extremely condescending and classist. I can’t help it.

    • Lawcat

      Since when are trade schools just blue collar? There are numerous trades that parlay into white collar office environments. Many tradespeople go on to open their own businesses, franchise and create a brand, so to speak.

      But, I guess it takes a classiest to know one?

    • Nj mommy

      I don’t think that people in trades are all so so students. People have different skill sets and talents. Just because one can study philosophy and do well doesn’t mean that they are smart in all areas of life and vice versa. It used to be that the purpose of the education system was to create a workforce. Now it seems people just go to school because they don’t think of any other options or that it would be looked down upon by others.

    • once upon a time

      What’s wrong with being a blue collar worker?

    • Aria

      He didn’t say that all blue-colar workers were so-so, but few so-so students are going to have what it takes to become doctors or lawyers. There is no shame in taking a trade job. Guess which jobs are in higher demand when the economy goes down because people need them more than ever to repair cars instead of buying new?

    • Blueathena623

      I don’t agree. Being a so-so student isn’t a death sentence or anything, and its not even that much of a value’s judgement. When you look at today’s education, there are many, many students who are bright and/or have skills that schools just don’t test, hence the so-so student part. And being a blue collar worker isn’t a bad thing.

    • Rachel Sea

      His point was that if you are a so-so student in high school, academically focused higher education (which is a lot more of the same) may not be for you, and trades can be fantastic and lucrative careers. The highest wage earners I know are electricians and glaziers. I’ve been working in accounting for years, and I’m considering switching to a trade for the greater earning potential, and higher satisfaction.

  • CrazyFor Kate

    Honestly? It’s a pretty good idea. My friends who went to trade school are all doing extremely well, while my friends who went to university are a) mostly in debt and b) will take a long time to earn a similar income to the trade school grads. If you’re not sold on academia, go for something else, it’ll save you time and send you on a career route much faster.

  • Tusconian


    Then make sure high schools are equipped with the information and the resources to train kids in trades.

    Most trade schools, at least like people Bloomberg’s age are thinking of them, no longer exist. The options are community college (which is still college) or for profit schools, which are basically universally garbage and don’t actually functionally train their students in a trade, and tend to be more expensive than public university. All the plumbers and mechanics I know under 35 went to community college.

    It’s not classist, it is a good idea, but it’s not reasonable, because the resources that made it possible for people my parents’ age doesn’t exist. If Bloomberg wants to re-instate auto shop classes and the like in high schools, though, it’s a sound idea. He didn’t say anything about “if you can’t afford it,” but “if traditional academics aren’t your strong suit and don’t interest you.” The only bit of classism I can maybe see is conflating “Harvard” with “all college.” State schools, small private schools, and community colleges exist. The world isn’t divided into high-achieving Harvard bound AP-taking bookworms, and plumbers who aren’t so great at reading.

  • TMM

    My so so student in high school just got his Masters and is going on to get his PHD.

  • Blahblah

    If you really really want to go to college, then you should have the opportunity to go. I don’t think going to college for the “social experiences” is a good idea, and I told my friends so. Go to learn, not because you want to get drunk and not actually have to go to classes if you don’t feel like it.

    I knew many people who came to college (and this was a community college), sat around being social all day, skipped classes, failed to do homework, and they flunked out within a year. It was quite sad. None of these kids were particularly unintelligent, they just were unmotivated and realized that even in college you have to take subjects that might not fascinate you.

    I don’t think college is for everyone. I was trying to have a discussion with some peers about this shortly after I graduated, and someone piped up that they should change college so it was for everyone. Okay. How could we do that?

    “No bullshit classes. I shouldn’t have to take prereqs. They just want my money. They shouldn’t have homework. Homework doesn’t teach you anything. They should make tests easier, because it’s not fair to students who don’t test well.” I didn’t think this was very realistic, personally.

    If college isn’t for you, there’s nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t make you dumb, or lazy. It just means that you’re not college material. It’s a shame that college seems to be the only real option anymore.

  • Amanda

    I fail to see how the phrase ‘students struggling with academics at the college level’ equals ‘students who come from families at the lower income levels’. Unless, of course, you are assuming that only rich kids get decent marks in school? I suppose it would make sense then.

    • Rachel Sea

      It’s not that only rich kids get good grades, it’s that they don’t much need advice about avoiding financial pitfalls. Rich kids who are poor academians can go to college regardless, and won’t be crippled by debt if their degree turns out to be useless; lower income kids, not so much.

  • Cheyhorn

    It’s taken me a long time to accept that college is not right for my daughter. She’s going to beauty school when she graduates high school next year. She’ll have marketable skills and little debt after completion. The college experience is over-rated.

  • Tea

    I genuinely don’t think college is for everyone, at all, and we need to stop shaming or assuming things about those who don’t pursue it. There is an assumption that not getting a degree makes you stupid, or if you’re “obviously” not so, taking up a trade is seen as a waste of talent.

    My father and partner are both extremely intelligent men, one is a truck driver, one is a mechanic, and they both have good careers that pay well and make them happy. My dad has never been happier than he was as a driver, and he was told directly once, after a long debate with someone, that by him being a truck driver, he was a “waste.”

    I don’t see it as classist to say that some people shouldn’t pursue college. It would have saved my partner a lot of stress and strife to have just gone for a trade. He’s an intelligent man (Full ride scholarship intelligent, until he lost it due to a lack of attendance) but not college material, and I don’t see why it’s bad that he didn’t go for it.

    • Aria

      My husband works for Apple and I’m a small business owner (formal gowns, and one of mine was on the red carpet at this year’s Oscars) who worked in internet anti-fraud and virus detection prior to the recession. It’s amazing how often people are stunned to find out neither of us have college degrees, and sad how often we are immediately looked down upon as “uneducated.” I could tell you why some people don’t get HIV even if it’s injected directly into them, or how to convert Fahrenheit to Kelvin (which most people don’t know exist) and can do the math formula in my head, yet and considered uneducated because I don’t have a degree. Learning independently has no place in this country. Why do we place no value on being motivated and driven to educate oneself?

    • NJ Mommy

      Aria, so sad that people view you and your husband that way! To me, a lot of these ‘highly educated’ people have no idea how to think critically or anything about any other subjects other than their major of choice. They also tend to hold an elitist view and automatically think they are a better person than someone like yourself because they have a degree. Sickens me that people think that way. I know I am making a lot of assumptions and lumping a large group of people together but just what I have been noticing about a lot of people lately.

      (I hold a clinical doctorate myself but am I better than anyone else just because of it? Absolutely not.)

    • Rachel Sea

      Many people assume, because of my work that I have a degree, or multiple degrees. When they find out that I don’t, they assume I must be terrible at my job. Many people are terribly narrow minded (in spite of their well-rounding college education).

  • Psych Student

    I have a friend who works as a plumber (as in the type that lays pipes for houses/buildings). I don’t recall what exactly he does (perhaps someone smarter than me can define it) but he spent some time where he got paid money just to sit around and wait for phone calls in case something needed to be done. He is making a crap-ton of money doing work he enjoys. We push kids to go to college, but sometimes the best thing is for them not to go to college. Especially now, the most in demand jobs are those that require trade schooling, not college.

  • http://www.facebook.com/paul.white.3532507 Paul White

    I have to say, I still say the one part of college I don’t regret is meeting my wife.

  • http://twitter.com/nannytraining Riverside Childcare

    It makes a strong argument for the style in some European countries for Technical Schools where at 13 or 14 you are on track for a career related to your vocation/skill set. That doesn’t mean you leave regular education it’s simply a recognition that you don’t want to head to College/University and you are actively doing something meaningful towards preparing for the future.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sean.phillips.9081 Sean Phillips

    I think the only reason you see classism here is because you are looking for it. this is great advice that plenty of people i know should have heard. real, genuine trades are in fact valuable and should be given due consideration, not looked at as a second-class option — which it seems to me is the way you’re looking at it, rather than Bloomberg. and perhaps, if we started valuing the non-college route more, and more kids took it and succeeded, then schools would be forced to lower their prices to entice them back. at the very least, it is very good advice for people who can’t afford to waste time at an expensive school, and could be a step in the right direction for fixing the broken system.

    also, bloomberg is only a mayor. of a major, extremely important city, sure, and he has done his best to use every last bit of power he does have, but affecting state school tuition is not something he is able to do.

  • Amber

    If you don’t have money, you don’t have the freedom to do whatever the hell you want. That’s not classist, that’s reality.