College enrollment drops in Iowa as more young people pursue manufacturing jobs

College enrollment drops in Iowa as more young people pursue manufacturing jobs

Some high school students in Iowa have discovered that manufacturing pays better than going to college. That is contributing to enrollment drops at Iowa colleges and universities, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.

One manufacturer hiring graduating high school students is Bertch Cabinet. It is hiring mainly to replace its retiring workers. The starting salary is $18 per hour — more than double the minimum wage — and new hires learn on the job.

“We’re trying to even get into elementary schools to tell kids, manufacturing’s a really good career,” Ashley Stanley, a human resources manager, said. “You don’t have to go to college, you can make really good money, you learn on the job,” and factories aren’t as dirty and messy as some might think,” Stanley said.

Bertch Cabinet needs to replace about 70 of its 700 workers, because some of its current staff are retiring.

At University of Northern Iowa, enrollment is “25-percent lower than it was in 2013, a decline almost entirely of students from within the Hawkeye State.” The Chronicle notes that

A shift happening in the Midwest is especially visible in Iowa: Residents’ embrace of higher education as the key to a stable economic future is loosening, according to college officials, school counselors, business owners, and students and families themselves…

Statewide, the share of students who attend college right after graduating from high school shrank from 69.2 percent in 2011-12 to 58.2 percent of the Class of 2022….Total in-state enrollment at all three public universities, which include Iowa State University and the University of Iowa, fell 15 percent between 2018 and 2023, according to government figures.”

In surveys, small businesses say they find many college graduates useless.

Yet, for years, the federal government has effectively encouraged people with few academic skills to go to college, rather than working in manufacturing or skilled trades, by heavily subsidizing college, rather than training for blue-collar jobs. The result is that there is a surplus of people who go to college despite not being college material, and then study useless, easy majors in college, and then never pay off their student loans.

Meanwhile, there is a big shortage of skilled manufacturing workers. This year’s increase in young people pursuing manufacturing jobs does not make up for years of falling applications by young people for such positions. Many manufacturing and technical jobs have gone unfilled. Application rates to technical jobs that require vocational training dropped by 49% in 2022 compared to 2020, according to data from Handshake obtained by NPR. The US Chamber of Commerce in their 2023 economic projections predicted a “massive shortage of skilled workers.”

The Biden administration’s financial aid policies subsidize useless majors through income-based repayment plans, which write off a person’s student loans after 10 or 20 years of payments based on a percentage of income, no matter how low that income is. Its “Pay as You Earn” program allows eligible student-loan borrowers to cap monthly payments at 5 percent of their income over $33,000 a year), and have their remaining federal student loans forgiven after 20 years — or just 10 years, if they go to work for the government. So the less a student earns (because their major was in a useless subject), the less they pay on their student loans before the loans are forgiven.

The government has encouraged people who once would have become skilled and valuable factory workers to instead go to college and work in white-collar jobs, contributing to a severe shortage of the skilled workers needed by manufacturers. The Washington Post reported way back in 2012 on this problem:

the country … needs more manufacturing work. But … many manufacturers say that, in fact, the jobs are already here. What’s missing are the skilled workers needed to fill them. A metal-parts factory here has been searching since the fall for a machinist, an assembly team leader and a die-setter. Another plant is offering referral bonuses for a welder. And a company that makes molds for automakers has been trying for seven months to fill four spots on the second shift. “Our guys have been working 60 to 70 hours a week, and they’re dead. They’re gone,” said Corey Carolla, vice president of operations at Mach Mold, a 40-man shop in Benton Harbor, Mich. “We need more people. The trouble is finding them.”

In recent years, government officials have depicted white-collar jobs for college graduates as the way to go.  President Obama advocated sending every high-school graduate to college or some form of higher education, while denigrating training for blue-collar industrial jobs.  He increased spending on colleges, while slashing spending on more useful vocational education that could lead to work in manufacturing.  As The Washington Post notes, as senior skilled factory workers are retiring, no one took their place, since “many of the younger workers who might have taken their place have avoided the manufacturing sector because of the . . . stigma of factory work.” .

Meanwhile, college students learn less and less with each passing year. “Thirty-six percent” of college students learned little in four years of college, and students now spend “50% less time studying compared with students a few decades ago, the research shows.”

While the federal government encourages young people to go to college by heavily subsidizing colleges and writing off many graduates’ student loans after 10 or 20 years (through income-based repayment plans that allow loan balances to be forgiven after 10 or 20 years of modest payments), it does nothing to encourage young people to get trained for decently-paid skilled trades and blue-collar jobs that have critical shortages of workers. In August 2022,

President Biden signed into law the CHIPS Act, which subsidizes the semiconductor industry. But the law is failing to expand semiconductor manufacturing much, because there is no workforce to manufacture the semiconductors, thanks to misguided federal policies that devalue useful industrial skills….“Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company will delay production at its new Arizona-based chip plant to 2025 due to a shortage of skilled labor, the company’s chairman said on its second quarter earnings call Thursday.” So reports CNBC. “Chairman Mark Liu told analysts on an earnings call Thursday that the company does not have enough skilled workers to install advanced equipment at the facility on its initial timeline. The company previously anticipated it would begin making 5-nanometer chips in 2024.”

No wonder the CHIPS Act has been called a “recipe for corruption and waste.”

LU Staff

LU Staff

Promoting and defending liberty, as defined by the nation’s founders, requires both facts and philosophical thought, transcending all elements of our culture, from partisan politics to social issues, the workings of government, and entertainment and off-duty interests. Liberty Unyielding is committed to bringing together voices that will fuel the flame of liberty, with a dialogue that is lively and informative.


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