Living Not So Large on Liberal Arts


If you’re sending your child to a liberal arts college I hope you own a company and make a lot of money. Those degrees in Psychology, or Human Rights, or Gender Studies are going to cost you a ton of dough and leave your kid with enough of a resume to work at Starbucks. So, you better have an opening in the family business and a spare bedroom, because that kid isn’t going to be out on their own anytime soon.

In the past two decades liberal arts colleges have tailored programs to interest students. The reality is these degrees don’t interest employers. In some cases, the only job opportunities they supply are to their own professors and administrators.

In the end, the kid has been out of the house for four years and probably now has a mountain of debt. Bernie Sanders was only teasing you about forgiving college loans. That’s not going to happen.

American parents have aggressively avoided careers in manufacturing for their children. This is mainly because the public school system has written off vocational training.

In fact, many industrial companies have written off vocational training. Apprentice programs are virtually gone, and vocational training has been taken out of high schools. Vo-Tech schools have changed their programs to classes that interest students: EMT training, television production, video game design. All great classes but where are you going to work when you graduate?

Instead, how about creating programs that teach kids how to make needed products? This country was driven by an industrial engine that led the world in engineering and efficiency. People got good jobs and business leaders got rich. Good times!

In the US the perception of manufacturing is a worker spot-welding a part on a product that is slowly moving down an assembly line. A great advancement attributed to Henry Ford. That was 100 years ago! Hank is long gone and companies in the United States don’t do it that way anymore. Those are the unskilled jobs that have left the country. Today’s workplace is dynamic, automated, significantly safer, higher paying, and screaming for qualified workers.

Several years ago, I helped Anoka County Vo-Tech (now Anoka Technical College) create a precision sheet metal training program. Students of all ages and backgrounds are taught how to fabricate complex parts. They are not using tin snips and hammers, but rather state-of-the-art laser cutters and computer controlled bending machines. The training focuses on developing math skills, programming skills, and an ability to keep up with fast-paced technological changes. This is the future of American manufacturing and the future of America’s skilled work force.

One big difference between this training and a liberal arts education is that the people who receive a graduation certificate from the precision sheet metal program have jobs waiting for them. In fact, employers send recruiters to the Anoka graduation ceremony.

Working in a manufacturing setting may not provide your young millennial with the flex-hours and the corporate ping pong table they see on Netflix. But it will provide a steady wage. The used BMW and the loft in Uptown are then realistic aspirations.

These are not dead-end jobs. You run a machine, then you program machines, then you go find more work for those machines. The technically minded individuals with ambition and an entrepreneurial spirit next buy their own machines and start making parts for somebody else. They start a small business. They contribute to the US GDP.

This is a far better alternative than living in the basement, playing World of Warcraft, and swiping right on Tinder.

Categories Vo-Tech, Education