Tag Archives: college

Who says college is the only way to ensure future success?

30 Jan
Image courtesy of Mike Rowe Works

Image credit: Mike Rowe Works and ProfoundlyDisconnected.com.

My family has experienced two firsts with my generation: we have the first college graduate and the first successful business owner.

They are two entirely different people.

I am the college graduate with undergraduate and graduate degrees in journalism; I now work as a public relations professional and teach a few college classes.  I rely on other people for my income. My cousin Jason, a high school graduate, runs a very successful heating and air conditioning business in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. He provides jobs for 20 people.

I have tremendous admiration for Jason. Not only is he a savvy business owner, he’s also a great husband, father and all-around nice guy. He is a living testimony of the success that can be attained by someone who pursues a skilled trade. He’s spent his entire life working hard and smart, and he uses these skills to help others provide for their families.

That admiration doesn’t diminish the hard work that went into building my college-based career; I paid my dues to get here through years of studying and course work, professional certifications, grueling hours at the office and a lot of personal sacrifices of self, time and energy.

I also struggled financially and incurred debt.

I was fortunate to have an academic scholarship for my undergraduate degree during the late 80s, but I still had to work to cover my living expenses. I received a great education and decided I wanted to return for my graduate degree a few years later. There were no scholarships for graduate students, and my full-time salary was barely enough to cover my rent, so I financed roughly $7,000 to cover my tuition and books. (That graduate degree would cost roughly $20,000 today.)  Did all that education pay off? Yes and no. My current earnings are modest, but I love what I do.

Jason’s career cost?  Nada. Zip. Nothing.  He got his start working for an HVAC company as an apprentice and worked his way up the ladder.  His earnings? Way more than mine, and he loves what he does, too.

College is not the only option
Today, skilled trades are in demand. The demand for workers with art, history or literature degrees has always been small, and it’s nearly microscopic today.  In fact, there are 3 million jobs out there that companies are having a hard time filling – and you don’t have to give up $70,000 in tuition money or postpone a real paycheck for four years to get them.   Apprenticeships and vocational training can open the doors.

My experience and the nation’s economic slump have taught me college may not be the best option for everyone, and consequently, it’s not on my list of “Thou Shalts” for my children.

My teenage daughter loves school and has her heart set on being a teacher, which means tuition bills will likely hit our family in just a few years. I don’t mind because this is what she WANTS to do, not what we’re forcing her to do. She also understands that college is not a four-year party financed by mom and dad; she has to contribute as well.

My 10-year-old son has different goals. He’s always been on hands-on learner with a mantra of “I can do it.” He’s not a big fan of the classroom, but he’s a frightening good strategist and has a heart for protecting others. His life goal? He hasn’t narrowed it down, but military service, law enforcement and restaurant owner have been mentioned.

Just as my grandmother is proud of the firsts Jason and I attained, I will be proud of my children and the firsts they attain for the family. My daughter could join a long line of teachers, or my son could be the first Navy SEAL or restaurateur in the family. Regardless of what future paths they choose, I look forward to cheering them on as they pick up skills that will enable them to support themselves and their future families – and I pray they do it without debt.

Learn more about college alternatives at MikeRoweWorks.com.
The former “Dirty Jobs” host launched an initiative last year to encourage more students and young adults to pursue in-demand skilled trades rather than incur debt and face uncertain job prospects. His site has great information on job profiles, trade news, financial aid and much more.


The true story of the roadkill goldfish

27 Apr
Popular misconception: Glass bowls do not protect innocent goldfish from oncoming traffic.

Popular misconception: Glass bowls do not protect innocent goldfish from oncoming traffic.

Goldfish have never lived long in my house. None survived more than three months.

Depending on how I felt about a particular fish, there would be either an elaborate burial in the backyard or a quick flush down the toilet.  If I REALLY loved the fish, I would first try to resurrect it with salt water because some kid in my third grade class told me it brought them back from the dead.

When a college boyfriend broke my heart, I thought it would be good to get another goldfish and name it after the boy. When the fish died, I could flush it down the dorm toilet as a symbol of the dead relationship. I’d be over my grief within a few weeks. However, He-Fish didn’t die within my timeframe. (Author’s note: He-Fish is obviously a pseudonym. Although, I don’t doubt there are dozens of U.S. men who earned the nickname for some college experience involving either a koi pond or kissing technique. Or both.)

He-Fish kept living. I bought him a little bachelor cave that he could hide out in. I fed him every day. I cleaned and treated his water once a week. A year later, the old boyfriend married the girl he dumped me for, but He-Fish kept going. I moved out of the dorm and into an apartment.  He-Fish kept going. Nothing would stop him.

A full two years after He-Fish joined my life, it was time for me to move out of the apartment. My apartment complex had a set of outdoor concrete stairs that were ridiculously close to the parking lot.  I lived on the second floor, and as a world-renowned klutz, I fell down – and up- those stairs on numerous occasions. (Proof point: I am the only person in the world who has spiked a volleyball into her own face and knocked herself out cold.)

On that fateful day, I made my last trip up those stairs to get He-Fish, my last item in the apartment. I held his bowl in my arms as I carefully came down the stairs. My foot caught on the last step, and He-Fish and his bowl flew out of my arms. The bowl crashed and shattered onto the parking lot, leaving my vulnerable He-Fish flopping on the asphalt. After dusting myself off, I went to go rescue him, but before I could get there, a Ford Festiva came racing around the corner and ran over my beloved He-Fish.

The driver heard the broken glass beneath his wheels and came out to investigate the crunching. I saw his puzzled face staring at a small goldfish with tiretracks across its body as I quietly made my way to my car and away from the apartment forever.

I guess it’s safe to say that He-Fish eventually served his purpose.

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