Many young people think that a bachelor’s degree is the best way—perhaps the only way—to get a good job anymore. But is it still possible to get a good job without one?
The answer is yes. A recent interview with Google’s senior vice president for People Operations revealed that 14% of people at Google have never gone to college. Yet Google is one of the most successful, innovative and challenging companies in the whole world. How can that be?
The answer is that many of the computer engineers at Google have spent years outside of the classroom honing their skills at programming languages like C++, Java, Python and Ruby on Rails. Many of them began as amateurs, in their bedrooms, basements and middle school computer labs. With years of practice, they’ve developed enough skills that they don’t need a piece of paper to show that they can do the job. They’ve already proved it in the programs and applications they can create. And one of the biggest and most prestigious technology companies in the world pays them accordingly.
It’s time that more people explore options other than a four-year degree. According to a new report by the Brookings Institution, 1 in 10 jobs in the United States is a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) job that doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree. Those jobs, on average, pay about $53,000 per year. They can be held with a community college degree or a certificate from any number of specialty schools that teach computer skills. According to the popular career website Indeed.com, the average salary in New York City for a junior developer of Ruby on Rails, currently a very popular programming language, is anywhere from $70,000-$100,000.
All this isn’t to say that a four-year college can’t be a good investment. The numbers show that college graduates have a higher employment rate and higher salaries. But the numbers also show that nearly 50% of people who start a bachelor’s degree never finish, and that the class of 2013 had average student loan debt of $30,000.
As college costs more than ever, it is important to consider what you will study, what school you will attend and how much you will borrow in order to make college a worthwhile investment. Many people have barely, if ever, considered these factors, and are now working in jobs they didn’t go to school for, or they are unemployed.
If computer science, or college, isn’t your forte, there are currently about 3 million “skilled labor” jobs nationwide that are going unfilled. These are jobs like plumbers, electricians, welders and construction managers. It is tempting to believe that these jobs don’t pay much, since they require a good bit of manual labor. But in reality, the labor supply for young, skilled workers in these professions is very low, and demand is very high. And most individuals who are well-trained in these trades are older than 50. Thus, talented workers in these fields can be making $100,000 per year or more by age 30.
For several generations, too many Americans bought into the idea that everyone should get a bachelor’s degree. Times have changed. What matters now, more than ever, is having the skills to do the job, not a piece of paper. A bachelor’s degree can still be a good investment, but it is possible to succeed in America without a four-year degree.