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‘Expensive’ Degree & ‘No Guaranteed Job:’ More Students Are Considering Options ‘Outside’ Of 4-Year College

Published Sunday, April 28, 2019
by Kate Thayer/The Chicago Tribune
‘Expensive’ Degree & ‘No Guaranteed Job:’ More Students Are Considering Options ‘Outside’ Of 4-Year College

(CHICAGO, ILLINOIS) - Sebastian Jurczak took his first machine shop class during his freshman year at East Leyden High School in Franklin Park, which sparked an interest in manufacturing classes, and he expanded his skills with CAD courses and other electives.

The manufacturing and design trade “was something I really enjoyed,” said Jurczak, now 24 and working in the field as he pursues certifications and an associate’s degree, all while supporting himself and avoiding student loan debt.

High School Administrators say more students are considering options outside of four-year degrees, which are financially out of reach for many.

With some of the fastest-growing fields attainable without a university education, students are pursuing a variety of career routes, including Technical Training for Skilled Trades that sometimes begins in hands-on high school courses.

Matt Liberatore, Director of Professional Learning and Student Services at Arlington Heights-based Township High School District 214, said students now are “much more in tune to the finances and what that degree is going to cost.”

He said Counselors and Teachers work with students to understand what’s right for them.

“Is the place you’re going to go going to be the most economically affordable for what you want to do?  I think there are many ways to get to the end point,” Liberatore said.

Recognizing college isn’t right for everyone, and in some cases isn’t necessary for a well-paying job, District 214 - through a partnership with Bosch Group - the parent company of Mount Prospect-based Robert Bosch Tool Corporation - recently announced a scholarship for students looking to pursue certificates in Trades like welding, HVAC, plumbing and carpentry.

Students are increasingly more realistic when it comes to post-high school plans, said Matt Kirkpatrick, Interim Assistant Principal for Student Learning at Oak Park River Forest High School (OPRF).

A recent internal survey at the school revealed “far more than ten-percent” of students weren’t sure if they would go on to college - a number that surprised administrators - and it wasn’t because of their grades.  “A lot of it had to do with the idea of (college) being a real investment, and being sure that investment was going to pay off,” Kirkpatrick said.

The school has tried to further develop its curriculum to include a variety of classes to give students a sense of career possibilities. 

Like other Chicago-area high schools, OPRF offers courses with dual credit, so students can work toward college or certification program credit. 

This can lead to quicker, well-paying jobs that could fund a more advanced degree, Kirkpatrick said.

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