A Winning Combination: Community College + Apprenticeship

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.

*image from Bridge Valley
*primary source for info about Fame: story by Josh Mitchell in WSJ

28 thoughts on “A Winning Combination: Community College + Apprenticeship

  1. Follow the money, that’s what I say. If only I had said that back in my college days, I would have chosen a more lucrative career. I think this would be a great program for those students who aren’t afraid to work with their backs and think with their brains.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Community college is a great alternative for many because they are usually much more affordable. There are lots of different paths, and this is a fine one.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This sounds like a wonderful program and shows what thinking outside the box can achieve. We must find a way for education, and in turn a living wage, can become more attainable to everyone. I had not heard of this program, so thanks for bringing it to light. I hope they continue with great success!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a great idea! People shouldn’t think there is just one way to start a career, and this program would give people the hands on experience that a lot of college graduates don’t even have after finishing school.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I used to believe that as long as you got the ability for the job, papers and education shouldn’t matter. We only need to be able to read, write, and calculate, sadly, in reality, more often than not this isn’t enough. Fame makes a promising program.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Excellent post about a worthy program. Having taught high school business education for much of my career, I appreciate this combination of community college with apprenticeship. The world of 21st century work skills will benefit from these type of partnerships.

    Liked by 1 person

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