I have written multiple posts about community colleges, which I consider a hidden gem within our educational system. Back in 2016, I wrote an homage to community colleges, and I wrote a follow-up in 2017.
In 2019 I also wrote about an alternative form of post-secondary education, the trade school, and focused on one particular trade school – Williamson College of the Trades, located in the Philly suburbs.
Imagine what would happen if you mashed those two ideas together.
Well, that is the general idea behind the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) apprenticeship-style program, began in 2010 as an experiment among several companies, including Toyota Motor Corp.’s Georgetown, Ky., factory, which was having trouble finding “middle-skill” workers to operate new technology. The program pairs employers with community colleges in an apprenticeship-like program. Today, nearly 400 employers participate in 13 states.
Students of FAME—a mix of new high-school grads and older factory workers well into their careers—typically spend two days a week in class and three days on the factory floor, earning a part-time salary. They learn to maintain and repair machinery; traditional subjects such as English, math, and philosophy; and soft skills such as work ethic and teamwork. The FAME program typically covers five semesters, or two years. After earning an associate degree, most work full time for the factories that sponsored them.
FAME graduates fill what might be called “grey-collar” jobs, which involve both traditional blue-collar manual labor and the kind of critical thinking and communication typically associated with a four-year degree.
New research shows it is paying off big for graduates, who typically earn nearly six figures within five years of graduation. The study, to be released Monday by Opportunity America and the Brookings Institution, Washington-based think tanks, contributes to the intensifying debate over how best education can promote income mobility.
Conventional wisdom is that a high salary requires a four-year degree. To be sure, the “college premium” remains near all-time highs: Workers with a bachelor’s but no graduate degree earned $78,000 on average in recent years, compared with $45,000 for those with only a high-school diploma.
But many college graduates don’t get a payoff. The lowest 25% of earners with a four-year degree earned less than the top 25% of earners with only a high-school diploma.
Apprenticeships have long offered a path to high-paying work for high-school graduates but have historically been reserved for skilled trades such as plumbers, carpenters, and electricians. But research on apprenticeships based at community colleges is limited.
FAME looks like a winner; it combines the best of community college, trade school, and apprenticeship to create opportunities for people for whom college has no interest or is outside their financial reach. Earning close to six-figures in your mid-twenties is more than many college graduates earn at that age, and FAME graduates have no student loans to worry about.
I wish the program and its graduates the best.