The Trump administration has a message for teenagers contemplating college: You have other options that may be better.
"College is not the only track to a great career," Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said Monday at an event in Washington to honor apprenticeship programs. Good-paying jobs that don't require a degree exist, he noted, and people who make that choice don't have to spend time paying off student loans.
That message is a stark contrast from the Obama administrations, which strove to make higher education more accessible for all by increasing student loan programs and largely ignoring other options for new entrants to the workforce. The Trump administration, by contrast, has pledged to expand apprenticeship programs. It has argued that there are skilled trade jobs that are going unfilled and that the efforts to promote getting a diploma have obscured that.
"I was talking to a CEO the other day who said that his company was hiring welders at an opening salary of $60,000. I thought, 'Shouldn't kids know about this?'" Acosta told the Washington Examiner.
Acosta made the remarks at an event hosted Monday by the American Hotel and Lodging Association and a nonprofit group, Grads for Life, to support a recruitment program for the hospitality industry. "We need more programs like these so that young people can have avenues for advancement, including apprenticeships," Acosta said. "From dishwasher to CEO... that is the story of [the] hospitality industry."
He cited statistics that show that only two-thirds of those who went to college completed four years and even those who did could come out of school often had heavy debt loads that take years to work off. "We have to ask ourselves, 'Are we serving everyone well?'"
About 40 percent of all Americans age 18-24 were enrolled in a college or university in 2015, up from 25 percent in 1980, according to Education Department. The increase has led to a massive spike in student loan debt. Students owe an estimated $1.3 trillion in loans, more than twice the amount from a decade earlier.
Acosta was careful not to say that higher education was a bad idea, but he did stress that it wasn't appropriate for everyone. He also argued that the mindset that a college degree was automatically better needed to be changed. "You should be able to look at the skills, not the paper," he said.