Editorial: Free college won’t boost skilled trades

The Detroit News

Hillary Clinton’s speech in Warren last week, in which she laid out her economic vision, sought to win over blue-collar voters with a call for the development of more skilled trade workers. Clinton has the right idea, but it conflicts with her other—free college tuition.

If roughly 80 percent of U.S. families have tuition-free access to public universities, why would they send their children to the less glamorous vocational schools?

Clinton has embraced Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ progressive ideas on higher ed. But thanks to a huge infusion of federal aid and loans, the nation’s colleges are already flooded with students, many of whom would be better served in a vocational program. Further expanding access to universities will only deepen existing problems and job shortages — not solve them.

In Michigan, at least 90,000 skilled trade jobs are unfilled because employers can’t find qualified workers. Around the country, there are millions of these good, high-paying jobs available.

More young people should be encouraged to consider careers in the skilled trades as an alternative to the cost and time required to obtain a four-year degree. Too many students are told a college degree is the only option, and that’s simply not true.

Clinton embraced this during her speech at the Macomb County aerospace manufacturing facility.

“A four-year degree should not be the only path” to a good job, she said, adding that she supports programs that train people for jobs that exist now.

Indeed, there are numerous community college and other certificate programs that exist to train students for jobs that are available now. The state of Michigan has partnered with “Dirty Jobs” star Mike Rowe to get the word out to middle and high school students about excellent vocations in the skilled trades.

Yet Clinton can’t have it both ways. Her appeal to win over the young voters who loved Sanders would offer free tuition to families making up to $125,000, which Clinton says benefits the middle class. Everyone else would fall under her “debt-free” plan, meaning student loans would become a burden of the past.

The taxpayer cost hasn’t been calculated, but it would be in the hundreds of billions. Much of that money would benefit families who don’t need the assistance.

Rather than simply throwing money at students, Clinton should put together a plan that would smartly invest in private sector training programs that could help get low-income students on a path to a good, available job.

By covering college tuition costs, Clinton would be incentivizing students to go the four-year college route, instead of exploring other career options that might better suit their skills and needs.