Digital Classrooms to Vocational Training: Young People Weigh In

Digital Classrooms to Vocational Training: Young People Weigh In

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Editor’s Note: With the rising costs of education and the lucrative business of trade schools, many young people are making the decision not to take the four-year journey for a college degree, or they’re enrolling in online schools to fulfill their educational needs. YO! hit the streets to get young peoples’ side of the story. PLUS: Young D gives his opinion on the importance of an education. Malcolm Marshall is the producer, and Donny Lumpkins is a content producer at YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia.


SAN FRANCISCO -- I didn’t go to college. Actually, I didn’t go to high school or middle school, either. I’ve been working through the years I would have been going to college. I guess you could say I’m sort of learning on the job.

You could say it is kind of like school. I have papers to write, and I have deadlines to meet. I’m learning about journalism, so I guess it’s more like a vocational training. A lot of people believe that on-the-job training may be the way to go, while others are opting for the convenience of online schools. More and more people are starting to think maybe a traditional four-year college may not be the only way to succeed.

My sister Larona Lumpkins, 25, attends the University of Phoenix, an online college, where she’s studying public administration. She’s chosen to forgo the actual classroom for the digital one because she has a young son.

“I wanted to go to a traditional college—a ground campus—but a lot of the colleges don’t offer good child-care programs,” she says. “So my next best option was to go online. It helped me to be a good stay-at-home mom and also pursue other things, like work.”

When Larona gets her degree, she plans to become a public administrator. She hopes to work for a nonprofit and use her skills to help low-income families and people who are usually disenfranchised and overlooked by the government.

Larona feels she might have a competitive edge because she has been focusing on school. She knows a lot of people are struggling to find work. But when it comes to four-year schools verses online ones, Larona says: “In terms of the education and the curriculum and the workload and the amount of time it takes in order to pursue my degree, I think it’s about equal.”

The Four-Year Student
Louis Davis, 19, a freshman at San Francisco State University majoring in film, thinks his education is key to career success. “I feel like it’s very important because it’s essential for me to be able to be successful in the job that I want.”

Louis says he knew he wanted to go to college after high school, but the pressure from his family made him feel like he had no choice. Plus, he knows it will be good for him in the long run. “All these statistics out there are saying if you go to college, you will make more money than people who don’t go to college,” he says.

But according to a recent story by the Associated Press, the notion that a four-year degree is essential for real success is being challenged by a growing number of economists, policy analysts and academics.

With all the budget cuts and high costs of college, I ask Louis if he feels like college is worth the diploma and the headache.

“I think that at [some] private colleges it may be worth it,” he says. “ But I think the amount of money we pay [at SF State] is too much for what we get.”

Louis is on a scholarship, but can sympathize with people who have to pay their full tuition themselves. “It is kind of weird how they push you to go to school, but it pushes you into debt and it … makes you a slave to society for the rest of your life.”

He admits that he sometimes wishes he went to a different college—maybe a vocational program with a quick degree. But all in all, he likes the college life and everything that comes with it. “You meet a lot of new friends, you meet a bunch of new people and you gain experiences you can’t get outside college.”

In a flooded job market, even having a degree doesn’t ensure that you will find a job. If you are overqualified, it could even work against you.

Colin, a 19-year-old from Los Angeles, who declined to give his full name, said he tried college, but the party life was just too much.

“I went to [California State University] at Chico for a year, then stopped going because I partied too much.” After moving back to L.A., then to the Bay Area, he might be going to City College of San Francisco.

“I’m definitely for education,” he says. “ I wish I could have balanced [my] education and extracurricular partying.”

Colin says he thinks people look down on him when they find out he’s not in college, but he does make more money than he would if he were enrolled in a school because he spends a lot of time working. But he knows that in the long run, sustaining that level of earning will be hard without a degree.

“Right now I’m making $22 an hour, but I know that’s not permanent,” he says. “I’m probably looking to make less than $15 an hour unless I do a college of some sort.”

But the idea of going into debt is a major deterrent. “I don’t want to have to get student loans and pay them back [later], you know.”

Colin is thinking about doing vocational training, perhaps for a job at Comcast or a phone company. But he says he has an aversion to the trade schools ads on TV. He feels like they are talking at him rather than to him. “I hate commercials. I don’t listen to commercials at all.”

Deirdre Ruscitti, 21, says vocational training has never been an option for her, but she can understand why other people take that route.

“I can see why they can be very valuable for people who are interested in going into more technical fields. I’ve always been a bit more impractical in my educational prospects. I really wanted to stay in academia for a while and to do that a four-year degree is still smiled upon.”

Ruscitti admits she was sort of a black sheep in her high school class, where a lot of graduates went to two-year colleges. “It is a lot cheaper to go to a two-year school and get that out of the way,” she says. “I think it is little over $20 a credit and you don’t have to worry about housing—you can live and eat at home.”

The truth is, a lot of people who would like to go to a four-year cannot. For a lot of young people, their immediate needs outweigh their visions of their perfect future. It’s hard to think about four years down the line when you need money right now— and if you don’t have money, how can you be expected to go to a traditional college anyway?

Not all of us can get scholarships for our bright minds or wicked jumpshots, so we need other ways to achieve success and stability. This country needs electricians and nurses—basic blue-collar jobs— just as much as it needs scholars and doctors.

Going to college is a dream for a lot of young people, but for some it will always be just a dream. It’s a good thing that a four-year school isn’t the only way—and now people are starting to think it might not even be the best way.