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Growing apprenticeships seen as rare opportunity for bipartisanship in Congress

More Democrats and Republicans are embracing forms of education that don't include a college degree.
Posted at 3:00 AM, Mar 02, 2023

Nolan Eby didn't go to college — and he likes it that way. Eby is an apprentice at the Carpenters Training Institute outside Omaha, Nebraska, and is one of a growing number of Americans who have decided to skip college in favor of high-paying apprenticeship opportunities.

"I didn't want to go to a four-year and take a loan out," Eby said.

Instead of college, Eby chose an apprenticeship program sponsored by his local carpenters' union.

Instead of going into debt to get a degree, Eby is only learning things applicable to his career goal of becoming a construction manager.

The biggest bonus? He gets health care and a paycheck while he learns. Learning is mostly done while out on a job site.

"I make $25 an hour right now," Eby said.

EXPANDING OPPORTUNITY

Expanding apprenticeships nationwide is increasingly becoming an area of bipartisanship agreement among Democrats and Republicans, with more and more lawmakers recognizing that a college degree may not be the best choice for everyone.

In Pennsylvania, Utah and Maryland, college degree requirements have been dropped for most state government jobs.

In Pennsylvania, for instance, 65,000 state positions are now open to people based on their ability and work experience. A college degree is no longer needed.

"I do see a change," said Brittini Kircher, the training director at the Carpenter's Training Institute.

Kircher says her program focuses on blue-collar jobs like carpentry and millwrights, but, thanks to virtual reality, other apprenticeship opportunities are emerging in fields like education and health care.

"They are given careers with high wages and no debt," Kircher said.

On Capitol Hill, expanding apprenticeship opportunities and funding is gaining bipartisan traction, which is rare for a divided Congress.

Kircher said she would like to see apprenticeships funded in similar ways the government funds colleges.

For instance, her program is exclusively paid for by the local union, which means there are limited resources for anything else.

Even getting food or money for a graduation ceremony can be a challenge.

"It's hard to self-fund all of this," Kircher said.