An Argument Against Going to College

If you didn't get into college — or maybe can't afford to go — could it be a blessing in disguise? Joe LaMacchia runs the website BlueCollarandProudofIt.com. He says college isn't for everyone, and provides resources for kids headed into the trades.

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ALISON STEWART, host:

It was likely a weekend of cheers and tears, as many colleges sent out acceptance letters to kids all around the country, or in some cases, acceptance emails. Yeah, the fat and skinny envelope has been replaced by bit size. A couple of years ago, Fitchburg State stepped it up even more. You didn't get an acceptance email. You got an email with a link which took you to iTunes where you got this podcast.

(Soundbite of iTunes Podcast)

Mr. ROBERT ANTONUCCI (President, Fitchburg State College): Hello. I'm Robert Antonucci, president of Fitchburg State College. Let me be the first to tell you that you have been accepted for the incoming class this next year. This is great news. Congratulations.

STEWART: But what if you didn't get in to Fitchburg? Or maybe you can't afford to go to college? Or maybe you just don't want to go? I mean, could it be a blessing in disguise? One Boston area man thinks that might be the case, that we should rethink all the pressure we put on kids to go and get into college. Joe LaMacchia runs a website called bluecollarandproudofit.com, says college isn't for everyone, and he provides resources for kids who decide to head into the trades. Hi, Joe.

Mr. JOE LAMACCHIA (Founder, Bluecollarandproudofit.com): Hi, good morning. Thank you for having me.

STEWART: Sure. So you started your website back in '03. What was the problem you saw that needed to be addressed?

Mr. LAMACCHIA: Well, I saw two things. I have five children and when I would go into the school to the PTA meetings, all you would hear is that they positively have to go to college, even if they're just going to get their liberal arts degree. The push is tremendous on these kids, and they get saddled down with these student loans. When I, in my construction company, would run an ad, especially for a truck driver or a mason, or if I needed electrical work done down here at the garage, I couldn't even get a call back.

And I started to realize there's a disconnect - there's just not enough tradesman. When I started out in the '70s, there was more tradesman than there was work. Now there is more work than there are tradesmen, especially with the baby boomers all retiring. We have 300 million population in America now. There's a lot of work out there.

STEWART: Now, you, actually, have had one of your kids run into this problem with a guidance counselor who was just bent on getting him to go to school. Could you tell us that story?

Mr. LAMACCHIA: Yeah, that's actually a unique story. My son Anthony, they went on and on that he was hyper like me, and aggressive, and creative. They said, well, Mr. LaMacchia, it's great if Anthony wants to work for your company, but you know, he should surely get his MBA. And I said, well, he's been getting his MBA since he's in diapers with me. And Anthony worked for many years with me and just recently, just two years ago, he went white-collar on me. He went over - he's building a real estate business - he's doing great.

And he graduated high school like me by the skin of his teeth. And you know, I think what's happening in America is we forgot that we can learn from the coach. We can learn from the uncle. Maybe the guy down the street at the auto body shop. we can learn from a cousin, a mentor. Everything is not just desk-to-blackboard. And many of us can't learn like that. Like me, I have attention deficit - years ago, they called us brats, and I guess now we have a real title.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: So when you speak to kids at school, or if kids are looking at your website, what advice do you give them? And what opportunities do you believe are out there for someone who just maybe applied to college because it just seemed like the right idea to do and maybe that's what all their friends are doing?

Mr. LAMACCHIA: Exactly, that's what all their friends are doing. That's what the teachers are telling them. That's what the colleges are telling them. And you know, they say the first year, a quarter drop out. And if they do, half of them can't find a degree for what they went to school for. Surely you hear that, we all have a list of people at a cookout or a gathering how many people have a degree sitting in a drawer collecting dust, and they're doing something else.

It's almost a machine they built and the machine needs to be turned a little bit. And let these kids - the hyper kids, the ones that can't sit still, we're the blue-collar people. Let's go out there and let them work. You can't take them like pieces of clay and shape them and mold them and put them all in one groove, because it's not right.

STEWART: Now, you know some of the census statistics that over a lifetime someone with both a high school and college degree will likely earn more than someone with a high school degree. So what's your argument to somebody with parents saying, yeah, but I want my kid to be able to make a lot of money and go out there, and I think a college diploma is the way to do it?

Mr. LAMACCHIA: Yeah, and I never heard anything about being happy. That's exactly what I say. Is money everything? I know it's close, but it's not everything. Wouldn't you rather make 60 - 70,000 being a plumber or electrician or a carpenter, instead of being chained to be a cubicle under fluorescent lights, being aggravated?

And especially people like us. We need instant gratification the way we're designed. You can't work in a project in an office for months and months and months. You lose interest. You're not happy. You're flying around the world. You might get outsourced. You might as well be a tradesman.

STEWART: We should be clear here. You're not against college, right?

Mr. LAMACCHIA: No, not at all. I'm grateful for the engineers. Years ago, the engineers, the doctors, the attorneys, the architect, that's who went to college. I had a couple children sick at Boston's Children Hospital, and I was grateful to have those doctors let me tell you. But I'm just saying, these kids come to work for me, and they're driving asphalt trucks, and they're all dirty and they're happy with me and they're saying Joe, I only have 20,000 left and my student loans are paid. I mean, it's terrible! They shouldn't have went in the beginning.

STEWART: Ouch. You know, it's interesting. One of the testimonials on your site says, quote, "Blue collar itself seems like a falsely-damning term," and your site is called bluecollarandproudofit.com, so is one of your purposes of your site just to restore dignity to the trades?

Mr. LAMACCHIA: I'm glad you brought that up. I don't think it's as bad - some people really have a chip on their shoulder. I don't. I think there's a little stigma about it. You know, we get dirty and we kind of are the backbone of America, we make the rest of America work everyday. But I guess it was one of the things that I want to present.

Go to an intersection one day when school's getting out. You have the policeman crossing, you have the school bus driver coming by, and then you might have a trash truck behind it. I mean, we make the rest of America work. We're the undercarriage of everything to give everyone comfort.

STEWART: So Joe, did you go to college?

Mr. LAMACCHIA: Go to college? I barely graduated. I had to run down my senior year to get credits from my gym teacher to graduate.

STEWART: How'd that go over with your parents at the time?

Mr. LAMACCHIA: Oh, my dad was an accountant with Raytheon for 40 years, and he was worried. But I remembered he saw how I was and he used to say, you do what you want and be the best. And you know ,when he alarm rings at five o'clock, I know how to get out of bed in the morning.

STEWART: Joe LaMacchia runs a landscaping business in Newton, Massachusetts. He's the founder of the website bluecollarandproudofit.com. Hey, Joe. You take care.

Mr. LAMACCHIA: And we have a book coming out May '09, "Blue Collar and Proud of It."

STEWART: Right on. Good for you. See you, Joe.

Mr. LAMACCHIA: All right.

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