(WTNH) – News 8 is looking into the exploding college tuition costs and how it’s impacting young adults in deciding which school to attend. It’s also pushing many to forego college altogether. WTNH talked to an organization trying to change the college-or-bust mentality.

College enrollment is down, specifically falling 4% annually in the U.S., according to the Education Data Initiative. Now, young adults are opting for certification programs or jumping right into the workforce.

The shift for college alternatives is coming at a time when demand for thousands of skilled manufacturing jobs remains unfilled in the state. The state currently needs to fill 11,00 manufacturing jobs with experts saying those vital vacancies could be filled if people who chose to forego college or the military applied.

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ for a high school graduate. In Connecticut, studies show college is the popular option at 78%, but it isn’t the only option.

“I was also told to go to college by many teachers, my parents,” said Law Ehtoo, a machine operator.

Law Ehtoo went to UConn to study teaching, but during the 20-year-old’s freshman year, he felt unfulfilled.

“It was not for me,” Ehtoo said. “I felt I was forced to keep going, but I don’t want to feel forced to do something. I want to do it because I want to.”

Ehtoo dropped out of college to pursue his passion. The Hartford resident then enrolled in a six-month manufacturing certification program. Two months in, he got a job in his field.

“It’s 12 hours a day, three days, 36 hours, but they pay me the extra four hours for free,” Ehtoo said. “Four days I get to do what I like and what makes me happy. No debt, no nothing, so that’s what I’m very happy about.”

That debt is driving down admission numbers. There are four million fewer students in college today compared to ten years ago.

A Georgetown study finds a growing number of people without degrees starting to outlearn college graduates.

ZipRecruiter pegs the average starting salary in the advanced manufacturing industry in Connecticut at $84,000 a year. Demand for workers in these fields continues to climb in Connecticut.

“Advanced manufacturing is incredibly high growth in Connecticut,” said Shannon Marimon, Executive Director of ReadyCT. “I think we’ve seen a big surge of opportunities coming back to the United States in manufacturing. We’re also seeing a lot of need in the computer science, IT business space. I would say computer science as a function cuts across all industries and is a huge need for students to be exploring.”

ReadyCT is a state-wide non-profit that matches students with manufacturing and other jobs. Marimon says their goal is to show all potential paths so they can be informed consumers.
“We’re really trying to change the narrative about what success looks like in our society,” Marimon said. “All too often, we are told it’s a college or bust mentality. Either you go into college, or we don’t really know what to do with you or don’t know how to help you and point of fact, there’s actually a whole range of paths that can lead to incredibly lucrative viable employment.”

ReadyCT lays out these options beyond a four-year college degree:

  • High school graduates can go directly into the workforce.
  • Graduates can continue to a credential or certification program.
  • Graduates can enter a short-term training program to gain the necessary skills.
  • Graduates can continue academic learning once employed.

Marimon says that nationally there’s been a shift in the way people seek work and fill every profession in order for communities to thrive.

“I think students are catching on to that very quickly, especially as they are seeing the increased cost of education and we’re finding that a lot of careers especially the ones that are in most demand right now don’t necessarily require that degree,” Marimon said. “In fact, there’s a move towards more skill-based hiring where they are looking for someone who’s coming in with a particular skill set and ability and they can build on that once they are actually in the workplace.”

Ehtoo is living proof. He’s now advising others his age to explore all options and most importantly, pursue a passion.

“Going to a four-year college is not the only way,” Ehtoo said. “Look at me! I don’t want to brag, but I got out of college, I went to a program for six months only, no debts, I learned the skillset I need in the program and got a great job.”

In-state tuition at UConn costs around $36,000, including room and board. So, compared to freshman year, Ehtoo says the 6-month program he took cost $6,000, a choice he says he’s glad he made.