As student loan debt continues to rise, more and more people, both nationally and locally, are looking to find good jobs that don't require a bachelor's degree.
Roughly 68 percent of seniors who graduated from public and nonprofit colleges in 2015 had student loan debt, with an average of $30,100 per borrower, according to the Institute for College Access and Success.
Students are willing to take that debt on because a lot of people still think they need that traditional four-year bachelor's degree to get a good job, according to Jeff Strohl, director of research at Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, and one of the authors of a recent study titled "Good Jobs that Pay without a BA."
"That's really driven by an awful lot of stuff that people feel and see around them," he said, adding the general perception is that the blue-collar economy is disappearing and if students don't attend a four-year school, they won't get anywhere in life.
"The evidence shows us that there still are a large number of good jobs for workers without a bachelor's degree," Strohl said.
With respect to the number of good jobs that exist in each state, Maryland ranks in the top three places where workers without a bachelor's degree appear most likely to find relatively lucrative employment, according to the Georgetown study.
In Carroll County, there is a clear shift focusing on programs to help students get good jobs without necessarily attending a four-year college and earning a degree.
A change in career paths
There is a big push nationwide and in Maryland to put funding into the types of programs offered at the Carroll County Career and Technology Center, according to Principal Bill Eckles, who said he cannot recall a similar effort to support these types of programs in decades.
College debt, combined with the number of students who start at four-year colleges and don't finish, has left people looking for other options that allow them to come out with skills and get a job, he said.
"Interest in our center continues to grow," Eckles said. "The students are seeing this as a very viable opportunity."
Things have changed some, Strohl said. In the post-war era, someone could find a job with just a high school diploma, and for some, that wasn't even a requirement. Without at least a high school diploma now, there's little economic opportunity available.
But even now, a high school diploma or GED alone isn't always enough to get a good-paying job, Strohl said, but a person doesn't need to go all the way to a four-year degree.
Fields that require certifications, or some continuing education like an associate degree from a community college, are where many of these jobs exist, he said.
"What you could do with a high school [diploma] now requires at least some college," he said.
Strohl, and others at Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, have been working on a three-year project studying how many and what kind of good jobs exist that don't require a bachelor's degree.
Georgetown's researchers found there are roughly 30 million good jobs in the U.S. that don't require a bachelor's degree, versus 36 million that do require a BA. About 9.3 million of the 30 million good jobs were filled by individuals with some college experience in 2015, while another 7.6 million held an associate degree. High school dropouts were found to hold just 1.7 million of the country's good jobs that don't require a BA.
These jobs pay an average of $55,000 per year, and a minimum of $35,000 annually, according to the report. Many of these jobs are in skilled-services industries, such as health care, finance and information technology, according to the report.
In addition to the recently released report, Georgetown plans to launch the Good Jobs Project website in the fall, which will show the concentration of good jobs for workers without a bachelor's degree both nationally and by state.
"A Good Jobs Index will be created to provide users an interactive way to determine the level of economic opportunity for workers without BAs across the country," according to the website.
The manufacturing industry still comprises the largest number of good jobs — 4.7 million, according to the study — but the share of good jobs in manufacturing has dropped from 27 percent in 1991 to 16 percent in 2015. Despite the declines in manufacturing, which many see as the fall of the blue-collar economy, Strohl said there are still good jobs that do not require a bachelor's degree in skilled-services industries.
Financial consulting (3.8 million), wholesale and retail trade (3.6 million), construction (3.5 million), leisure/hospitality (3.4 million) and health care (3.2 million) make up the top five growth industries contributing to more than 17.5 million good-paying jobs, according to the Georgetown study.
Boom in skilled-service industries
Carroll is seeing a push in many of those fields as well. "There's a lot of good work to be done without a degree," Eckles said.
At the Tech Center, they're seeing students in construction trades, welding and HVAC graduate and get good jobs after getting certified. Especially for welders, Eckles said, once they get their certifications they can "go into very high-paying jobs."
Eckles said the Tech Center offers many certifications at the school. Welding students, for example, can get American Welding Association certification from the school because it is an official testing center for students.
Another popular program for the Tech Center is the Cisco Academy, which provides a "comprehensive networking concepts, from network applications to the protocols and services provided to those applications by lower layers of the network," according to the website.
For many who go through this program at the Tech Center, Eckles said, they "get right into the field." Some, though, will move onto the cybersecurity program at Carroll Community College.
Matt Day, director of cybertechnology at the college, said the program has served more than 200 students since 2015, and has more than 100 students enrolled this semester.
All courses in the program include hands-on training, where students gain real-world skills, Day said. As part of the cybersecurity program, students also have the opportunity to pursue valuable industry certifications, such as CompTIA Network+, Security+ and Cisco CCENT, he added.
"Our program is also unique in that students benefit from a full-time cybertechnology navigator, who combines college and career advising services with outreach to employers and businesses," Day said. "This approach has assisted many students in successfully earning jobs at a variety of local and regional employers, including regional IT services firms, federal contractors and the NSA."
Carroll Community College works to anticipate the changing needs of the job market, both locally and regionally, to provide programs and courses that will help students get a job or advance their careers, according to Libby Trostle, senior director of corporate services and workforce development. The college is seeing that employers are seeking skilled, credentialed workers to fill jobs.
The college often partners with the Tech Center, she said, to connect high school students to the college's programs. Graduates may continue their training after graduation or, in some cases, may be concurrently enrolled in credit or noncredit classes while still completing their requirements for high school graduation.
Not every job requires a four-year degree, Trostle said. Middle-skills jobs are those that require some type of specialized training or education beyond a high school diploma, but less than a bachelor's degree.
"Employers want to know that employees can do the job they are hired to do. Industry credentials help to validate the knowledge and skills of a prospective employee," Trostle said. "Depending on the industry or occupation, an employer may expect or require a license or certification. In other cases, it may be what makes you stand out in the applicant pool."
Barbara Gregory, director of career development for the college, said currently demand is "extremely high" in the early childhood, cybersecurity, short-term health care, computer graphics, business, banking and information technology fields.
Apprenticeships are also growing in Maryland, according to Steve Berry, director of career and continuing professional education at Carroll Community College. Traditional apprenticeships often were primarily for the trades or manufacturing and were multiyear programs, he said.
"However, nontraditional programs are gaining in popularity in such fields as health care, cybersecurity, and digital and social media," Berry said.
The college is currently working with local businesses in the information technology and manufacturing industries to explore the development of new apprenticeship programs to help meet employers' hiring needs, he added.
Carroll Community College serves as a high-impact partner in economic and workforce development in the county, said President James Ball.
"We are proud to play a vital role in enhancing the quality of life in Carroll County," he said. "Providing convenient and affordable access to high-quality programs that adhere to industry/professional standards and licensure requirements is a hallmark of the community college."