For many high school seniors, graduation is less than a month away. There are a lot of emotions that come with this realization: Shock. Panic. Surprise. Excitement.

Accompanying such anticipatory angst is the often-dreaded question, “What’s next?” followed by the often-regurgitated answer, “I am going to ________ college/university to get a bachelor’s degree in _______.”

College is one choice, but it isn’t the only choice

Around 50 percent of Minnesota high school graduates start down the four-year college path, often due to pressure from family or guidance counselors or because it is thought to be the only road to success. This is not to say there aren’t students who thrive and excel in a four-year setting, but it may not be appropriate for all students. Nor is it the only way to succeed.

For some, a college education is the next logical step after high school. But the reality of low four-year graduation rates at many Minnesota colleges and universities highlights the importance of bringing awareness to all post-secondary options before a young person commits his or her time and money to an option that may not suit him or her best.

Alternatives to four-year degrees such as associate’s degrees, apprenticeships, trades schools, and certificates, are proving themselves worthy of both a student’s time and money.

A reportpublished by the Center titled “No Four-Year Degree Required: A look at a selection of in-demand careers in Minnesota,” calculates estimated lifetime earnings for jobs requiring a two-year degree or less exceed those of four-year degree holders by as much as 61 percent.

And with a worker shortage expected to explode from the current 60,000 unfilled positions to as many as 280,000 by the end of 2022, Minnesota’s economy will be desperate for skilled workers.

The future can’t—and won’t—wait, so how does Minnesota bring back the vanishing worker? Well, for one, we beef up industry and education partnerships so high school seniors, and even middle schoolers, are aware of the rewarding opportunities that span a variety of occupations and job duties. They need awareness of these opportunities. They need access to dual-training and work-based learning. And they need to know college is an option but it isn’t the only option.

The Center’s “Great Jobs Without a Four-Year Degree” project is working to ensure students, parents, education institutions, and employers know about the many successful efforts going on across the state to produce the workforce Minnesota requires.

To all you high school seniors (hopefully) reading this, resist that pesky senioritis. Your hard work has paid off, but there’s still more in store for you. Don’t settle. Know all your options so that your interests are not disregarded when decision day comes around. And remember, there are many great jobs waiting for you that don’t require a four-year degree.

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