Working at The Daily Tar Heel, one often hears a great deal about the plight of the modern journalism student. But I was shocked to learn that starting salaries for graduates of the J-School, as they like to call it, are often considerably less than those of plumbers, electricians and mechanics. Despite what we were told in high school, apparently a college degree doesn’t guarantee a higher income.
A little research on the subject provided me some quick answers and led me to a thesis that is likely to ruffle more than a few feathers in South Building: North Carolina’s singular focus on sending students to four-year colleges is hurting our economy and the people of this state.
Despite an unemployment rate of 9.9 percent, North Carolina is in desperate need of blue-collar workers like plumbers, electricians and elevator mechanics.
Though these “middle-skill” jobs certainly require training beyond high school, they don’t require a liberal arts degree from UNC. Instead, our state needs to provide more vocational training through its community colleges.
Employers are looking to fill thousands of these positions but are unable to because of a lack of qualified applicants. To give you an idea of the scope of the problem, more lawyers graduated from UNC School of Law last year than plumbers did from the entire North Carolina community college system.
Middle-skill jobs are not the mundane, low-paying careers many fear, but rather real, viable alternatives for many students in the UNC system. Starting pay often exceeds $50,000 per year. Meanwhile, 12.3 percent of UNC’s 2011 graduates are still seeking employment.