More Rewarding than College

It may surprise many people in our country, but the reality is that people going directly into the trades from high school instead of pursuing a college degree will actually earn more money over their working career than most people who get Bachelor’s degrees.

Given the tremendous cost of higher education, and fact that only 65% who start college will complete in 6 years, the combined debt burden and delay in career entry into the workforce places college graduates at a large disadvantage to trades workers. Skilled trades workers become more valuable the longer they work, while commonly many careers requiring college degrees will often layoff senior employees to replace them with recent college graduates who will accept much lower wages.

The chart below shows the average expected earnings difference between someone going into the trades and two different college paths.

Note that It takes almost 39 years for the Masters degree holders to catch up with the tradesman, and much longer for those who earned only a Bachelors degree.

Assumptions & Sources:

  • Trades example: Non-Union HVAC, New York State outside of NYC metro area, average starting salary and $1.50 per hour annual increase.
  • College Costs: 2021 Full rate cost of instate tuition at SUNY colleges including all fees, books, housing and meal plans.
  • College Duration: Five years of college, – 2020 national average of 59% of graduates take 5 years or more to complete.
  • College Graduation Rate: 65% 2020 – National Center for Education Statistics:
  • Master’s Tuition Costs: 2021 national average for public Master’s programs.
  • College level wages: 2021 average – ziprecruiter; $51,212 + 3% annual cost of living increase.
  • Masters Wages – Assumption three years working with bachelors before returning for Graduate Degree; entry level average $57,338 – Jan 2020