Mike Rowe explains how we’re ‘entering a whole new time’ of smart money as path to prosperity ‘shifts’

Television host Mike Rowe believes Americans are “starting to smell a rat” in the long-held pursuit of a college diploma.

The “Dirty Jobs” host told Fox Business’s Stuart Varney that today’s unaffordable cost of a college education is driving a “shift” for young people who will see that the “smart money” will be made in trades and careers.

“I think we’re going to be entering a whole new time, where the smart money is going to be,” the MikeRoweWorks Foundation CEO said on “Varney & Co.”

“Go to a trade school and then learn a trade,” Rowe said.

According to the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, “enrollment in four-year colleges dropped two percent between 2019 and 2023,” and “the number of students on two-year college campuses plunged nearly 13 percent.”

“While community colleges focused on bachelor’s degree transfer have suffered in the wake of the pandemic, those with a more vocational orientation have begun to prosper. Despite an initial drop in enrollment, two-year schools with a high vocational program focus saw enrollment increase by 100,000 in the last year. Vocational community colleges now enroll four percent more students than they did in 2019,” the think tank reported.

“People are starting to pay attention,” Rowe told Varney.

“It’s a bit like turning a tanker around,” he continued. “You’re talking about perceptions and attitudes, stigmas, stereotypes, all sorts of things. People in a lot of ways need to be deprogrammed about this idea that the best path for most people is a four-year degree, coincidentally, the most expensive path.”

He pointed out the opportunities from trade schools at “a fraction of the debt,” adding that it’s a “clear path to something that looks a lot like prosperity.”

“It’s so expensive that, for as long as I can remember, we really haven’t talked about it in terms of a purchase. We talk about it in terms of an investment, but people are starting to smell a rat there, too,” Rowe said of the long-held view on investing in college degrees.

“I think more and more people are starting to look at that diploma on the wall and seeing it for what it actually is, which is a receipt,” he added.

He projected that “we’re going to be entering a whole new time” as the “smart money” will be made by attending trade school and pursuing a trade.

Rowe noted the trade-off in spending thousands in order for a student to have the so-called university experience.

“Fifty percent of people who start a college pursuit don’t finish,” he told Varney. “Those people, their debts aren’t forgiven, you still owe a bunch of money, you don’t have the degree, you don’t have any training.”

“I think Gen Z is just starting to realize they’ve been pushed in a direction that, frankly, doesn’t lead to a place they want to go,” Rowe observed.

According to a January report from the National Student Clearinghouse, “freshman enrollment grew this fall, but at a slower rate (+0.8%, +18,000) than undergraduate enrollment overall.”

“This growth was driven by community colleges, which added 17,000 (+2.3%), and by older freshmen (age 21 and above, +6.3%, +18,000). There was no growth among freshmen 20 years old and younger. Their enrollment remains 5.3 percent below 2019 levels,” the report continued.

Frieda Powers


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