A year after graduating high school, Tyler Trout still believes going straight to work and not to college was the best decision he could make.
Trout, 19, graduated from Whiteland Community High School in spring 2013 and joined several hundred other local graduates who decide each year not to go to college.
Right now, he lives with his parents and makes about $20,000 per year as a welder with Lanham and Sons Mechanical Inc. in Whiteland. But if he receives more advanced training and certifications in welding, plumbing and other skills over the next five years, he thinks he’ll start making more money, eventually about $70,000 per year.
This fall, Trout will start taking courses paid for by his union in welding, plumbing, heating and air conditioning and other technical fields. That training will enable him to complete more complex tasks at his current job, and he’s hopeful learning new skills will make him more marketable if he ever looks for work at other companies.
He’ll complete all of the union’s courses in about five years, and during that time he also might get the chance to take business courses from Ivy Tech Community College that would enable him to earn an associate’s degree.
Trout is fine with that but he said he believes the training he’ll earn through the welding, plumbing and other classes is more important than a two- or four-year college degree.
“The certifications mean more than having an associate’s degree,” he said.
Between 22 percent and 49 percent of the graduates from area high schools in 2012 didn’t go to college after graduation, according to data from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.
Trout said he always wanted to weld for a living and doesn’t believe college would teach him anything that he can’t learn or be paid to learn while he’s working.
School officials know that not every high school student wants or needs a four-year degree, but graduates will have an easier time marketing themselves to more employers if they have an associate’s degree, Clark-Pleasant director of curriculum and instruction Cameron Rains and Greenwood assistant superintendent of learning Rick Ahlgrim said.
That’s why Clark-Pleasant and Greenwood schools started looking last spring for more college-level Advanced Placement and dual-credit courses students can take while they’re in high school. Clark-Pleasant also recently set a goal for students to earn nine college-level credits before graduation by 2017.
Schools also have to start talking with students as early as sixth grade about the kinds of careers they might want to pursue and the education they’ll need to get those jobs, Ahlgrim said.
“Very few of the really attractive careers that students and families are looking for are ultimately satisfied with just a high school diploma,” Ahlgrim said.
The number of students who don’t go on to college — nearly 50 percent at some local schools — concerns Rains and Ahlgrim. Even if those students want to pursue technical careers, such as welding, they might not be as competitive as other workers with associate’s or other degrees.
If two people with identical technical certifications apply for a welding job, the candidate with an associate’s degree could have an advantage, Rains said.
“The day and age where you can graduate with a high school diploma and live out the American dream is over,” Rains said.
Rains and Ahlgrim believe that if their schools offer students more chances to earn college credits in English, math and other core subjects while in high school, then they can start taking more specialized college courses after graduation, earning degrees faster and starting their careers earlier.
“Our goal isn’t necessarily the degree. Our goal is we want our kids to graduate and be set up for success in life,” Rains said.
If he can earn an associate’s degree through the training and classes provided by his union that’s fine with him, Trout said, but he’s not going to go out of his way for one. The money he earns now is enough for him to pay his bills, as long as he doesn’t buy anything he doesn’t need. He also has medical insurance, dental insurance, retirement options and other benefits through his job.
If he suddenly lost his job at Lanham and Sons, he’d be looking for work with just a high school diploma. But Trout said he believes that there will always be a need for welders throughout the country, and that his union will help connect him with work if he ever needs it.
“I’ve always been into welding, and being able to make a living out of it is nice,” Trout said. “That kind of work will be around.”