Making a Living Without a Degree
Commentary, Editorial Page, January 2024

Making a Living Without a Degree

By Andy Valencia

My last article provided a strongly negative take on college. It wasn’t fair or balanced, because pretty much everything else you’ll read concerning college will tell you that, unless you buy a college degree, you’ll die disfigured and alone in a gutter somewhere. Before you reach your mid-twenties, most likely. Read anything else first, then read my article – now you’re balanced.

Ideas in the abstract can seem OK, and yet there you are in your last semester at Vashon High School. You’re going to get a diploma and your final report card. Now what? For most new adults, your stomach is uneasy, and your heartbeat quickens. You feel afraid, and exposed, and powerless.

Sometimes, these dark emotions are true warnings from the recesses of your brain. In modern culture, these feelings have often been placed into you, to make you do something. Being a legal adult only means that you didn’t die before reaching your 18th birthday. Being an actual adult means making good decisions for yourself, even when it takes courage. Gather all of the facts and all of your feelings, think it through, and go with the best option. Sometimes following the best option is a little scary, so be courageous.

But what DO you do without a college degree? I had my own ideas, and then our incredible Island kicked into gear. The world is awash in great jobs that don’t need college degrees. A pattern that quickly emerged was that people were enthusiastic to tell about their work and liked their jobs. Not in the sense of doing their job to the exclusion of life, but rather, they work and make a living, and then come home to family, hobbies, church, or whatever else completes them.

The first Islander to reach out was a 911 operator, who became a supervisor, and now she’s written books and has her own 911 training company. Handling emergency communications is demanding and fascinating, and they will hire and train you straight out of high school. Very often, as you accumulate experience, they’ll even fund part-time college studies. Once you’re inside the public safety community, it’s often possible to choose to grow out into some other public safety position, such as becoming a paramedic. If this kind of job interests you, there’s extra details at the bottom of the web version of this article.

When I dropped by my local credit union, I casually asked about jobs–once again with an enthusiastic response. You might assume credit unions only hire people with college degrees in math. In fact, what they want to see is a high school diploma and the ability to work carefully, with attention to detail. They also want to see somebody with a great work ethic and impeccable integrity. Because credit unions operate under federal law, all of their compliance training is just a part of bringing a new employee up to speed. It’s absolutely normal to start as a teller or intern and work your way up to branch manager. Even the corporate officer positions can be held by people who started as a teller with their high school diploma.

Trade schools open their doors at a fraction of the cost of a college degree. One of our local men, fresh out of the military, took a three-month course and became a crane operator. Within the year, he was earning a full salary with benefits. Look up at the crane towering over one of the building sites in Seattle, and think of the person up there operating it. Weight and balance, clear communications, complete situational awareness, and the ability to make safety decisions quickly. If you’re OK with heights, that could be you up there in the middle of a high-rise building project. The three-month training I mentioned included a commercial driver’s license, making available an additional range of jobs.

I plan on doing another article, since I haven’t yet touched on some other important employment areas, like automotive, electrical, water systems, and plumbing. But I wanted to finish by mentioning some traditional no-degree areas, and giving a word of caution.

The military, some police departments, and many junior medical support positions do not require college degrees. But our society is undergoing large shifting stresses right now, and the pain of those stresses lands squarely upon the people doing such jobs. Do NOT make a decision to enter one of these areas based on what was true a decade or two ago. Instead, find a recently retired worker in the industry, and let them walk you through what the job was like, is like now, and where they see it going.

I especially recommend approaching a military recruiter only after you’ve talked to a recently retired veteran or two. Expect the recruiter to use high-pressure sales techniques; they are being pushed hard to bring in more recruits. Remember that they can promise what you’ll do and when you’ll be able to leave military service. Once you’re sworn in, they don’t have to keep those promises. It’s happened within recent memory, just do a search for “military stop loss.”

Until my next article, just remember: there are lots of options. You’ll be fine.

Public Safety / 911 information--many thanks to islander Susan Pivetta! of 911.mp4
Sample 911 job listing
Sample Salary Schedule
January 8, 2024

About Author

vandys Andy Valencia is a 20+ year islander, tech guy, father, writer