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Success doesn't have to mean a four-year degree

I recently saw a TV commercial showing a young child progressing through early childhood education classes. At the end, the motherly voiceover explained that this child’s education was going to lead them to success — being college-bound.

The last few words explain the mother’s joy when her son will announce what college he’s attending.

There’s no doubt that in our society a four-year college degree is a measure of success. But what is often forgotten are the other pathways that can bring about a well-paying, respectable job without a traditional college degree.

As a society, we have drilled into young children that a four-year degree is the ultimate goal. That rhetoric has resulted in a generation that is highly educated but potentially underemployed; a generation that has shied away from career and technical education opportunities because society has always indicated that these trades are “less than.”

Luckily, a recent report from Vice has shown that Generation Z is pursuing trade school at a much higher rate than their millennial counterparts. The report contributed this shift to the rising cost of higher education and Generation Z watching millennials flounder with expensive degrees that are not paying the bills.

While trade schools are growing in popularity, a necessary shift has yet to occur — society’s opinion needs to change. In fact, in the Vice article, some students struggled with pressures from society because of their decision to forgo a traditional degree, even if their chosen trade is well paid.

One student said, “If you’re a doctor, people admire you and you have the glory ... If you’re a construction worker, you may get paid the same as a doctor, but you don’t look as good.”

From the beginning of early-childhood education, the rhetoric must be that there are different paths to choose from.

Success is not a one-way street. Success is honorable work, whether being a professor, a plumber, a construction worker or a certified public accountant.

Success is not just a four-year degree. Success is not just going to college right out of high school. Success is pursuing a career where you are happy, you can feed your family and contribute to society.

I’m pleased to see career and technical education advance, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to change the culture behind the trades. Because these programs are near and dear to my heart, my office hosts the Outstanding Students in Career and Technical Education Awards every year. This award is an opportunity to recognize those students who are successfully pursuing a trade.

The award is a nomination-based program, so I encourage all teachers and parents in Congressional District 31 to nominate a student in their life that is excelling in career and technical education.

For more information about the CTE awards, please visit my website.

Rep. Carter represents Texas District 31, which includes Round Rock and Fort Hood, the largest active-duty armored military installation in the free world. He serves as co-chairman of the Congressional Army Caucus and Chairman of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Appropriations.

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