Using the cost of college as recruiting tactic for trucking

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Kevin Tomlinson made an interesting comment back in September at the annual FTR Transportation Conference; one worth noting here in reference to the rapidly rising cost of college.

Tomlinson (seen at right), director of maintenance for South Shore Transportation Co., stressed that one reason trucking wants a better “first crack” at high school graduates to fill its driver and maintenance technician jobs is that the monetary standing of those positions is getting better by the day.

“We need to let them know what we as an industry can offer them,” he explained during a panel discussion.

“Kids can go to college, come out $150,000 in debt, and go work at McDonalds,” Tomlinson said. “Or don’t go to college, come drive or turn wrenches for us, and start out making $55,000 with no debt.”

The twist to this discussion is that now might be a good time to make such a pitch to the parents of soon-to-be-high-school-graduates; the ones rapidly becoming less enamored of the value college offers for the price.

With the average annual sticker price of college hitting $19,548 for in-state public college and $43,921 for private college, joint research conducted by Kaplan Test Prep and Money magazine among both parents and high school counselors finds many aren’t convinced about the value-for-cost of college today.

According to a recent Kaplan/MONEY survey of 539 parents of prospective college students, just 21% agree that “the cost of a four-year college degree today is clearly justified for the value it delivers,” while 58% disagree and 21% aren’t sure if the value is worth the cost.

In a separate survey conducted among 235 high school counselors, 37% feel strongly that “the cost of a four-year college degree today is justified for the value it delivers.”

A reason behind the reservations about value-for-cost may be the immediacy of the financial pressures college costs bring, for in the same survey of parents, 60% say that thinking about how to save for college is “more daunting” than thinking about retirement.

“We know from talking to parents and high school counselors that the takeaway isn’t that they don’t believe in the value of a college degree – they’re really concerned about the high sticker price,” noted Michael Boothroyd, Kaplan’s executive director of college admissions programs.

“This is understandable since for many, it’s a hefty investment that brings immediate debt but not necessarily immediate return,” he added.

Long-term, though, a college degree can pay off in terms of significantly higher lifetime earnings and lower unemployment of college graduates. According to a 2014 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, those with a bachelor's degree earn about $1 million more than high school graduates during their careers, while data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the 2014 unemployment rate of college graduates to be almost half that of high school graduates (3.5% versus 6%).

Still … among today’s ever-more cash-strapped families, with student loan debt topping $1 trillion and growing, well-paying trucking jobs that offer long-term employment for high school graduates may just be more attractive than many in the industry may think.

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