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Gen Z goes to work instead of college – ‘you can make really good money’

Factory tells elementary school kids, ‘manufacturing’s a really good career’

Some Iowa students are finding better opportunities in manufacturing and are deciding to forego college.

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported on enrollment drops at Iowa universities.

Bertch Cabinet, for example, is hiring to replace its retiring workers. The starting salary is $18 per hour and students 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, told The Chronicle.

“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. The company is trying to replace about 70 of its 700 workers, due to retirements.

Other competitive opportunities have apparently hurt local universities, such as the University of Northern Iowa, where enrollment is “25-percent lower than it was in 2013, a decline almost entirely of students from within the Hawkeye State.”

The Chronicle reported:

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,” The Chronicle reported.

Colleges, like UNI, are trying to get prospective students to understand the potential for higher salaries after a college degree.

Other media outlets have reported on similar trends of students choosing to work.

Last year, for example, the Associated Press reported critically on the “crisis” of Gen Z taking jobs instead of going to college. “Economists say the impact could be dire,” the AP reported.

But it also quoted a 19-year-old plumber working at the Ford plant.

“If I would have gone to college after school, I would be dead broke,” Daniel Moody said.

“The type of money we’re making out here, you’re not going to be making that while you’re trying to go to college.”

MORE: Encourage work, not student loan debt

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Matt has previously worked at Students for Life of America, Students for Life Action and Turning Point USA. While in college, he wrote for The College Fix as well as his college newspaper, The Loyola Phoenix. He holds a B.A. from Loyola University-Chicago and an M.A. from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He lives in northwest Indiana with his family.