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College as commodity

Rowe clarified his use of the term “shameful” in a followup interview with Fox.

“I'm not saying that there's anything inherently shameful about getting [a four-year college degree], but I do think from a PR standpoint, something really interesting has happened,” he explained.

Rowe argues the traditional perception of a college degree — once a testament to one’s intellect, wisdom and knowledge — has drastically deteriorated.

“That connection no longer exists in the minds of many millions of parents,” Rowe said.

Instead, he believes, many parents now view a college degree as a mere commodity, mirroring the transactional attitude many universities have adopted toward their student “consumers.”

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Other paths to six figures

These days, the cost of a four-year college or university degree can be incredibly steep, making it unattainable for some. Rowe was particularly harsh on tuition hikes that continued even during the pandemic.

“New York University raised its tuition during Zoom classes. At some point, you've got to look at the people who are paying the bills,” he said. “It's almost like they're being dared, right? It's like, how much further will it go?”

The average annual cost of college in the U.S. — inclusive of books, supplies and living expenses — stands at $36,436 per student, according to the Education Data Initiative. That number has more than doubled since the turn of the century.

Amid these soaring costs, Rowe advocates for an alternative: learning a trade. His mikeroweWORKS foundation awards scholarships to students pursuing a career in skilled trades.

“In my little tiny world, we offer work ethic scholarships for kids who want to learn a skill that's in demand. The foundation's never been more robust. We're giving away another million dollars at the end of the month for these kinds of scholarships,” he shared.

Hitting pay dirt

Rowe emphasized that while the trades are not always perceived as glamorous, they are essential.

“Welders, steamfitters, pipe fitters, heating, air conditioning, electric — our country is built on those things,” he said. “Whether they're sexy or not, the opportunities exist. There's a path to six figures and it's shorter than you think.”

Wage data adds a lot of credibility to Rowe’s argument. Consider this: The National Association of Colleges and Employers reported an average starting salary of $61,871 for the college class of 2022.

Meanwhile, ZipRecruiter indicates that the average annual pay for a journeyman electrician — a status that typically requires four to five years of paid apprenticeship — is $65,880. For steamfitters, the average annual pay is $78,926.

Having spent 10 seasons of “Dirty Jobs” exploring the importance of hands-on work, Rowe expects the rest of society will soon come around to his way of thinking.

“The collective delusion surrounding the primacy of a four-year degree is tipping. And when it falls, it's going to go splat,” he concluded.

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About the Author

Jing Pan

Jing Pan

Investment Reporter

Jing is an investment reporter for MoneyWise. He is an avid advocate of investing for passive income. Despite the ups and downs he’s been through with the markets, Jing believes that you can generate a steadily increasing income stream by investing in high quality companies.

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