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College or Skilled Trade School? How some have altered traditional career paths during the pandemic

Posted at 5:41 PM, Feb 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-23 20:22:25-05

DETROIT (WXYZ) — The proportion of high schoolers who are considering a four-year education has plummeted from 71% to 48% since the start of the pandemic.

COVID has created a new demographic of students who are deciding not to pursue college or who are dropping out altogether to take the uncharted path.

We’re taking a look at the changing trends and introducing us to the growing group of young people looking to buck the traditional.

When the pandemic hit, Brighton’s Matt Folk hit the pause button on his education.

WXYZ’s Ameera David asked, “What exactly did you not find appealing?”

“I cannot stay engaged with online schools, I don't soak in the information, I can't go to a teacher and ask them a question immediately,” said Matt Folk who decided to stop pursuing his college education.

Sean Yousefi says the pandemic gave him a lot of time with his thoughts.

“I can wake up and keep doing what I have to do or I can make myself do something else so I can do whatever else I wanted to do,” said Sean Yousefi stopped pursuing college.

He ultimately decided to take a gap year from school to pursue day trading. More and more young people are either choosing to leave college or to not to pursue a degree at all. Today, there are nearly one million fewer students in the higher ed system than before the pandemic began.

Recent Michigan data shows a decline in 2021 enrollment at almost every university across the state.

Take Wayne State University- total enrollment numbers - between fall of 2020 and fall of 2021 dropped by 5 %. That’s over the course of a year. But if you look at just this school year alone- it's even more alarming. Compare enrollment in the fall semester versus the winter? See another 8% drop.

Tuition costs are 19% higher today than ten years ago. But the pandemic economy where workers are in high demand also plays a role. Matt Folk says he was recruited to work as a home inspector.

“Was it relatively easy to get that job?” asked David.

“Yes,” said Folk. “I’ve been very fortunate to get a very fair salary for knowing nothing.”

“Perhaps there’s growing doubt in the value of a four-year degree, but one educational trend that does seem to be citing measured success in skilled trades.

“The opportunities are endless,” said Katie Gandy Community Engagement Manager at Barton Malow.

Long disparaged, the pandemic is now pushing trade careers into fashion, both for those who never stepped foot in college.

“I personally believe I made the right choice,” said Derrick May.

And for those like Wrayna Howell - who surprisingly already earned a bachelor's degree but entered a trade program because she says the hands-on experience is something college couldn’t offer her.

“You’re on different job sites,” said Wrayna Howell, an apprentice Carpenter. “So, you just get a feel for how people work in the industry.”

These apprentice carpenters are thrilled at the chance to get paid to learn and they’re not the only ones. Barton Malow’s boot camp, where they initially sought training charting record interest.

“In the last couple of years our program has doubled, then quadrupled,” said Gandy.

Young people looking to jump into a ripe jobs market and keep what was supposed to be college cash in their pocket.

“Will you be in debt after this?” asked David.

“No,” said May.

“And does that excite you?” asked David.

“That excites me big time,” said May.