In those posts, I described community colleges as the crown jewel of our post-secondary educational system, and noted that “If you believe in the power of education to change people’s lives, then you’d be hard-pressed to find a better pathway than a community college for millions of students to continue their educational journey.”
I wrote that as a result of my experience of going back to community college for a degree at the age of 50, I fell in love with the mission of community colleges. Such colleges offer an opportunity to students of all abilities and all income levels to pursue a wide variety of coursework. Whether it is someone in his mid-40s looking to change careers, or an 18-year old planning to spend two years at community college and then transfer to a four-year institution, community colleges can help you achieve your goals.
I also compared community colleges to the local library; a great untapped resource that offers a world of knowledge and opportunity for anyone who wants to pursue such goals.
Here’s a quote from that homage: “I am convinced that if you are going to pursue a college degree (which I do not think is necessary for everyone), then I think one of the best ways to do so is to spend your first two years at a community college and then transfer to a four-year school.”
Well, today I read about another great alternative to the traditional four-year college degree – attending a trade school.
A story that Kay Hymowitz wrote for the City Journal was adapted to appear in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and featured a profile of Williamson College of the Trades, located in the Philly suburbs.
One inspiring alternative to noncollege purgatory: Williamson College of the Trades in Media, a three-year school for young men, 22 miles southwest of Philadelphia. Barring a philanthropic miracle, it’s not fully replicable — for one thing, tuition and room and board are free, thanks to a century-old endowment and donor generosity. But everyone interested in improving the lives of back-row kids and renewing a sense of dignity in a depressed lower middle class should study the school’s ethos and curriculum.
Williamson students choose to specialize in one of six trades — masonry, horticulture, carpentry, among them (the others are machine tool technology, paint and coatings technology, and power plant technology). But no less important is the school’s character-building “curriculum” immersing students in the core values of “faith, integrity, diligence, excellence, and service.”
The program seems to be working. 74 percent of Williamson students graduate in three years, and 98 percent of them go on to a job. Between 30 percent and 40 percent of those grads proceed to get higher degrees. For comparison: 61 percent of high school grads from the lowest-income quartile do manage to enroll in college, but only 26 percent of those students get a bachelor’s degree within six years, often with significant debt.
Hymowitz also references a recent story in the Wall Street Journal recently reported that the bottom 25 percent of college grads earn no more than their peers with only a high school diploma. And those high school grads have been earning money vs. accumulating student loan debt, enabling them to jump out to a head start, and perhaps stay ahead.
Williamson was founded in 1888 and currently has about 265 students, with a student-faculty ratio of 13 to 1 (Villanova has an 11 to 1 ratio; East Stroudsburg has an 18 to 1 ratio). All students must live in the dorm, which is supervised by an adult dormitory manager.
Here is its Mission Statement:
Williamson develops the entire student, spiritually, socially, and professionally, emphasizing academic, trade, technical, and moral education in a structured community based on Judeo-Christian principles, without charging for tuition, room, or board.
Here is a wonderful video that offers a bit of insight into this amazing school:
And here is a ringing endorsement from a researcher at Tufts University who studied the impact that Williamson has had on its students and the community:
One of our neighbors had a nephew who graduated from Williamson, and only had great things to say about the program, calling it life-changing.
So as Hymowitz points out, if you are one of those back-row kids, the students who sit in the back of the classroom bored and inattentive since traditional school subjects are not for them, then a place like Williamson may be just what you are looking for.
I didn’t know much about Williamson until I came across the story in the Philadelphia Inquirer, but it seems like an amazing opportunity for the non-traditional student who is ready to graduate high school and is looking for some direction and purpose.
And on a more personal note, I am quite jealous of all those hands-on skills these young men develop that they will have for a lifetime.
*image from This Is Carpentry