By Richard Vedder
I was struck by a headline in today's Columbus Dispatch: "College Graduates Now Turning to Trade School," written by H.J. Cummins of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Cummins note that there is a growing tendency for college graduates with esoteric majors that have little vocational relevance to go back to schools to learn a trade --air traffic controller, heating and air-conditioning work, etc.
I have argued that the earnings differential that college grads command comes less from what they learn in school than from other attributes they have --intelligence, ambition, discipline, etc. Students sometimes leave college after spending thousands of dollars and four or five years of their life and find little in the way of satisfying employment --but learn that plumbers and heating specialists and air traffic controllers are making big bucks. So they go back to trade school and, after a year or two of training, get jobs often paying within a few years $75,000 or more a year. The statistics record these individuals as high earning college graduates, but I ask the question: would they have probably earned about as much if they simply skipped college and went to trade school in the first place?
Charles Murray argues that too many people go to college and too few go to trade school. If the story that Cummins is telling is true, and I suspect that it is, than we have overeducated trades persons who have often spending tens of thousands of dollars unproductively before getting training that is vocationally relevant. How much government subsidy goes to sustain these individuals as they go through college unnecessarily?