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You CAN find value in higher education

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Nationwide, 44 million people owe $1.3 trillion in student debt. That’s more than the gross domestic product of Russia. The average class of 2016 graduate has more than $37,000 in debt. Statistics like these have people questioning the value of higher education altogether. But that’s a mistake. You can find value in a postsecondary degree—you just need the right degree.

According to Kevin Fleming in his excellent short film, “Success in the New Economy,” half of university graduates are under-employed, with jobs that do not require the education they received. Likewise, while it may be true that the average income for “white-collar” careers is higher, that’s only average. If you have the ability to succeed as a skilled technician, but lack the ability in, say, business, you will earn much more learning a trade.

And it will cost you a lot less.

The average student loan debt for Thaddeus Stevens graduates is only about $7,000. And, more importantly, about half of all TSCT students qualify for our Stevens Grant, which covers tuition, housing, meals, tools and textbooks. These students are on the fast-track to a high-demand job with no debt as they start their career.

Students considering Stevens have an additional advantage, thanks to changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Students are now able to file a FAFSA for the upcoming academic year by Oct. 1, rather than Jan. 1. Because the Stevens Grant uses federal Pell Grants to supplement the program, the early FAFSA will help us make decisions on student eligibility and put aid packages together sooner.

I’m pleased to announce that the College this year hired a new director of financial aid, Melissa Wisniewski, to help students and families navigate this sometimes complicated process. Mrs. Wisniewski comes to Stevens with more than a decade of experience in financial aid. She will be a great asset to TSCT families and prospective families, and I encourage you to reach out to her with any questions you may have.

There are also many books on the topic, including two new ones, “Student Debt” and “Game of Loans.” In particular, the “Game of Loans” authors argue that the problem is not that people borrow to invest in their futures—which they support—but that students make poor choices in education that won’t pay off for them.

Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology is a solution to that problem. There is value in higher education—and a degree from Thaddeus Stevens!

Mr. DeGroft is the Dean of Enrollment Services at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology.

Growing support for the skilled trades

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At our annual scholarship dinner this fall, we awarded scholarships to 62 current Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology students totaling a cumulative value of more than $142,000. This investment in our students, from companies and donors, reflects the growing movement to support the skilled trades—a movement our economy needs.

We are thankful that this year’s program included seven new scholarships created just over the past year. As the College continues its rapid growth, we will need support from individuals and companies to assist more students in acquiring the high-tech training they need to fill the many openings that are being created by the “Boomer” retirements. I would be happy to provide information on establishing scholarships here at Stevens, upon your inquiry. 

Fortunately, scholarships are not the only way organizations are helping Thaddeus Stevens meet our modern workforce demands. We are also thankful to both the Gunterberg Foundation , who awarded a $50,000 grant and the  Alcoa Foundation, which awarded a $20,000 grant to the College to support new  a 9-month structural welding certificate program that will become a full associate degree program. These funds helped equip the new student laboratory on campus.

These companies, organizations and individuals understand the importance of technical education. Policymakers are paying notice. As James Pierson of the Manhattan Institute wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal (paywall), “technical and vocational education should receive more emphasis as a path to upward mobility.”

He quotes Mike Rowe, host of the show “Dirty Jobs,” in questioning the change in how a “good” job is defined: “The bias against vocations, from carpentry and welding to the maintenance of high-tech machinery and computer repair, means that discussions of higher education typically neglect these paths.” Rowe is working with the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry to “Start the Conversation” and address the widening skills gap in the Commonwealth, and we are participating in that effort.

Thaddeus Stevens is fortunate that local businesses and philanthropists continue to support our programs, and we are pleased this message is getting wider attention. We are ready to transform today’s students into tomorrow’s workforce!

Mr. Tate is the Director of Development at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology.

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