Mike Rowe on alternatives to college

Mike Rowe, of ‘Dirty Jobs‘ fame, has conducted a video interview with Reason magazine that takes an insightful look at our current higher education mess.

Rowe … worries that traditional K-12 education demonizes blue-collar fields that pay well and are begging for workers while insisting that everyone get a college degree. He stresses that he’s “got nothing against college” but believes it’s a huge mistake to push everyone in the same direction regardless of interest or ability. Between Mike Rowe Foundation and Profoundly Disconnected, a venture between Rowe and the heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar, Rowe is hoping both to help people find new careers and publicize what he calls “the diploma dilemma.”

Rowe recently sat down with Reason’s Nick Gillespie to discuss his bad experience with a high school guidance counselor (3:20), why he provides scholarships based on work ethic (6:57), the problem with taxpayer-supported college loans (8:40), why America demonizes dirty jobs (11:32), the happiest day of his life (13:14), why following your passion is terrible advice (17:05), why it’s so hard to hire good people (21:04), the hidden cost of regulatory compliance (23:16), the problem with Obama’s promise to create shovel ready jobs (33:05), efficiency versus effectiveness (34:17), and life after Dirty Jobs (38:24).

There’s more at the link.

Karl Denninger backed up Mike Rowe’s perspective in an article over the weekend.  He cites a report by the St. Louis Fed, and points out:

If you elect to go to college there is only a one in four chance that (1) you will finish and (2) you will work in a job that actually renumerates you for having done so.

In other words there is a three in four chance that you’d be better off not having gone to college at all, because (1) your earnings power is not enhanced by having attended and (2) you wouldn’t have the debt — or spent the funds — to go.

Again, more at the link.

Here’s the interview with Mike Rowe.  Highly recommended viewing.

There’s some very useful information there.  I found its emphasis on education for a trade or technical career very interesting, because in South Africa, where I was raised, the system was heavily oriented in that direction.  University study was encouraged mainly for those who really needed a degree in their chosen career field.  There were institutes of technology at various levels, ranging from school to tertiary education, where one could qualify in a trade or a practical, hands-on career field.  It was similar to the German system of technical colleges and universities, and modeled on it to a certain extent.  Many young men and women who were not academically suited to a university environment learned useful career qualifications through this alternate technical education system, and were highly prized by employers.  Others completed apprenticeships in heavy industry, frequently offered in conjunction with institutes of technology.

If you have kids or relatives approaching college age who haven’t thought much about career prospects or earning a living, may I suggest you could do a lot worse than sit down with them to watch that interview, and talk about it afterwards?



  1. All the points are correct, and there is NOTHING wrong with blue collar jobs. Tech training was pushed when I was in school, and a good friend who never went did to college (did Tech training), now is a multi-millionaire from his welding businesses…

  2. Neither of our daughters opted for college, and both are now in decent jobs – one a pharmacy tech, and the other a pastry chef. Both have learned on the job, and both are happy.

    Can't ask for much more than that.

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