Mike Rowe Says Death of Shop Class Is Why Country Has $1.6 Trillion in Student Debt

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“Dirty Jobs” host Mike Rowe said in a Thursday interview that the death of shop class is to blame for the country’s $1.6 trillion in student loan debt.

Rowe joined Stuart Varney on Fox Business to discuss his new book, The Way I Heard It, and was asked why there are “seven million unfilled jobs in our country.”

“Are we just not training people for these jobs? Is that the problem here?” asked Varney.

“It’s not just that. It’s that we have unintendedly maligned an entire section of our workforce by promoting one form of education, in my opinion, at the expense of all of the other forms. Forty years ago, college needed a PR campaign. We needed more people to get into ‘higher’ education, but when we gave the big push for college back in the ‘70s, we did it at the expense of alternative education,” Rowe replied.

He said that the country’s leaders told students if they didn’t get a degree, then they would “wind up turning a wrench.”

“That attitude led to the removal of shop classes across the country, and the removal of shop classes completed obliterated from view the optical and visual proof of opportunity for a whole generation of kids,” Rowe said. “The skills gap today, in my opinion, is a result of the removal of shop class and the repeated message that the best path for most people happens to be the most expensive path. This is why, in my opinion, we have $1.6 trillion of student loans on the books, and 7.3 million open positions, most of which don’t require a four-year degree.”

“We’re just disconnected. We’re rewarding behavior we should be discouraging. We’re lending money we don’t have to kids who are never going to be able to pay it back to train them for jobs that don’t exist anymore. That’s nuts,” Rowe concluded.

Another Fox News regular, actor John Ratzenberger, said in an August interview that the removal of shop classes from public schools forces people to rely on the government.

“They also canceled shop classes about 30 years ago,” he said at the time. “Just wiped them out. And, who knows, maybe it was political because if you don’t give people skills they have to rely on the government. But if you give them skills, they don’t need the government.”

Watch Rowe’s full interview below:

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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of Battleground State News, The Ohio Star, and The Minnesota Sun. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to anthony.gockowski@gmail.com.
Photo “Autoshop Class” by the US Department of Education. CC BY 2.0.






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45 Thoughts to “Mike Rowe Says Death of Shop Class Is Why Country Has $1.6 Trillion in Student Debt”

  1. Josh

    that’s not the whole story.

    it’s also “right to work” states that can fire anyone for any reason and lack of unions.

    or how employers will bring up politics so they can fire the leftists.

    or mass layoffs.

    Mike Rowe and many people commenting here are also ignoring the fact that college doesn’t have to be academic. if tuition is paid for by our tax dollars, that also means we can afford to people people in welding school and STEM who actually want to be there.

    and if we want to do big infrastructure projects, that means we need leftist presidents that are willing to cut the military budget and end the corporate wars based on lies.

  2. Mary Houser

    I’m not surprised. I still am angry about not being to take shop when I was a senior in high school in 1980 because I was female, I would have loved it!

  3. Steve

    “College is not for everyone, it will never amount to anything for you”. So my high school guidence counsler told me as she signed me up for mostly shop classes. The best thing that could have happened to me. I was good with my hands but not so much with books or academic classes. Went to a trade school for both auto and diesel mechanics. Did very well and became a well known regional mechanic and trouble shooter for numerous auto and construction equipment companies. Started my own small construction equipment and engine rebuilding business for 18 years, was then bought out by a larger company and asked to run one of their divisions for 14 years before retiring. Just think of a college graduate that needs his car, appliances, plumbing, heating, or home electrical, repaired. Its the guy that went to trade school, that must keep up with the latest codes , changes in systems, the new inovations on systems, he is hiring. I wish the academics in this country would tell high school students the truth. Not everyone is a College student but can still make a good living wage and raise a family but go to a trade school.

    1. Patrick

      Nice move. Congrats!

      1. Cathy Glover

        Okay. Some of the debt. But not all. We still need teachers, doctors, and other professionals. My girlfriend racked up $190,000 in debt, but she’s now a licensed therapist who works with drug addicts.

  4. Steven

    This article has some truths to it, but it ignores the fact that the people who went to college got to decide who gets paid more, the college educated or the workers, and the workers don’t win out until they get very scarce.
    It also ignores that the people who went to college get to decide who gets laid off first during an economic downturn.
    It also ignores the fact that if you get laid off, the paper the banker wrote that says you owe for a car, or a house still works.
    Bottom line is, people went to college to get paid better and have a safer workplace, not just because cleaning shit out of somebody else’s toilet sucks.

    1. Sharon

      Not all college educated people draw higher wages. A school teacher makes way less than a plant worker in our area. we As teachers educate them and straight out of high school they are hired on at the plants for more than we make after 10-15 years teaching. Just because they have the training in high school. So, college isn’t for everyone.

    2. Miss Alma

      I do not have a college degree, and I never cleaned crap out of anyone’s toilet except my own. Before I retired, I had an office job and made just as much money as many of my college educated coworkers, and in some cases, I made more. I also know people who are not college educated who own lucrative businesses who hire both college-educated as well as non-educated employees. Like Steve said in his comment, college is not for everyone. I agree. As a matter of fact, there are plenty of college-educated people who are unemployed.

    3. Trace

      Tell that to all the kids getting out of college with $200K in student loan debt and not much more than a bunch of $35K jobs to choose from. No question, the more education you have, the higher you are on the food chain, but that doesn’t mean your education has to have a B.S. at the end of it. There are plenty of trade school programs that offer a business management background producing entry level jobs at $60K or more.

  5. Pedro Exposito

    The problem is that jobs for college grads pay so much more than jobs for high school grads.
    a software developer can easily make $ 45 to 60 an hour.
    an auto mechanic makes about $ 20 per hour.
    a lot of the college debt is from college majors that should be for rich kids only, like art, music, history, philosophy, etc.
    very few people can make a living in those majors. one needs another source of income.
    this is something that colleges don’t explain.

    1. Andy

      Yet welders can make a 6 figure income. There are alternatives even for Programmers that never step foot in a college. I worked for a company in Canada that had people that weren’t old enough to rent a car in the US getting high tech jobs back in the early 2000 that paid $60 to $70K a year, High School grads!

    2. Randall Lowers

      Go to any car dealer and ask their shops hourly rate it will be 75 or more per hour so your premise is very flawed, in fact mechanics, plumbers, carpenters, masons and most other trades make an much as most people with a 4 year college degree, the problem is that most people have for decades looked down on skilled labor jobs and the people who do them as being somehow less than and lower in stature to them and what they do.but every college educated person will at some time in their life needs the services of most every skilled type labor job and they may well be very surprised just how much they will have to pay their non college educated skilled labor counter parts of society who are able to earn what they do or more without the Student Loan debt strangling them plus they were already earning money and amassing wealth during the 4 plus years the college educated were amassing debt from student loans.

      1. Tom day

        The mechanic makes a fraction of that 75 per hour. The dealer takes most of it. This is a false analogy.

      2. Tinu

        That dealer ship rate doesn’t include the expenses the dealer has to maintain the shop. On average it’s about 40 to 50 an hour depending on how busy they are. Those mechanics that work by the hour get laid less. Others work on contract basis.

  6. Jack

    High school shop classes taught me to think out problems. I have only a high school education, but work in the single largest astro physics project in the world. Shop classes gave me the skills to do this….life is an education that can not be taught.

  7. Rona

    Old enough to remember shop classes and totally agree their demise is a monumental mistake!!

    1. Stephen Verchinski

      I was good at both and it was invaluable schooling.
      Hardly knew though, about how the systemic white upper middle class male privileges, the social tracking of higher education of students by Department Chairs in High School and how it worked though.
      Heck, could have been quotas.

      If they had the design though, they could have easily tracked me the other way (seen it done shortly in another 4 years) After all, I was insistent and defiant to religious authority.

      Outcast and outspoken in public, I even protested that invasion to my own family. In turn I was reminded that the lineages were welcomed into the USA, that two uncles became staff sergeants. I then did the work and it was too late to rig the grades. It gave me 4 years of the student deferment that kept me from an illegal, unconstitutional, undeclared war, war so full of the two extremes. McNamera’s Morons is what they called the draftees on one hand (too young to have for many, executive brain functions fully formed) and the Dogs of war, the Point and added Academies of Sea and Air.

      You, do you all understand that?
      I liked the doing. All doing for a being among good people, and making things and visioning things and learning about things.

      1. Mark Baumgartner

        I have some college , an associate degree and work on Airplanes and make more money than someone with a Master’s degree. I did shop class in high school.

    1. Ron

      I looked forward to the shop portion of FFA. I already had a self taught background in how mechanical things worked. There was very little counciling where I went to high school. I wanted to learn a trade so I enrolled in a trade school. The government had a program called Manpower Development Training. I chose the machinist school. A helicopter manufacturer hired the top six from the class and I worked 39 years and retired at 60 with a house and two cars paid for. I know everyone doesn’t have to have a college degree.

      1. Debbie Hale

        Not only shop class was eliminated in many places; so was home economics. Home Ec skills may not give one a high paying job, but they are quite useful in everyday life. Things learned in shop and Home Ec classes gives one the ability to DIY.

  8. Dei Harris

    This was done to discourage minority progress in the 70’s. Than came the destruction of the Black Family structure. Single parent homes was not the norm until the intentional (pre-planned) war on drugs, and the campaign to criminalize Black America. Felonies became the instrument to limit voting, and voter suppression still goes on today.
    White America makes excuses unroll it hits their families, as they did with Heroin. They treat heroin addicts with hospitalization and health care, while crack addicts are locked up and treated as criminals and the worst of the worst.

    The lack of Shop class is now affecting rural America. They are paying for education, faking degrees and credentials. The cheating ways are starting to show up more and more. Unqualified Doctors, Lawyers that exist on backroom deals, the twisting of reality and the inauguration of an Orange President (lol).
    Shop class was eliminated to destroy the Black progress in America.

    1. Albert Bryan

      Yawwwwnnn? Get a life. Now it’s all the white man’s fault that shop class was canceled. Who are these people that have the power, time, and money to set around thinking about how to undermine Americans of African ancestry?

      1. John Magee

        Note how politically correct the photo at the top of this article is…

    2. Zip Smith


    3. John Magee

      I disagree. Starting in the late 1960s liberals thought shop class “humiliated” Blacks and wasn’t good enough for them. Instead of becoming a qualified electricians with a secure financial future liberals promised them college even if they were not qualified to attend one. Blacks believed these false promises that guaranteed they would become CEOs of companies if they graduated college and have a bright future with he help of affirmative action programs and other privileges based on race. Sadly many, if not most dropped out of college and resented the system. Trade schools were abolished by misguided liberals who always end up destroying everything that works based on their insane social justice fantasies and obsession with race.

  9. Ron Anderson

    I agree with this 110% I have been in the Ag business for 39 years . The biggest challenge in today ag business is finding parts people and techs I blame that on no shop classes . I hated school left my Jr year went to work at a gas station got married then went to work for John Deere dealer setting up machinery then to diesel shop into sales management and ownership . And I give credit to shop class for most of this . I just recently retired at age 61 then was called by another ownership group do internet sales and just having a blast working from home.
    Any questions feel free to reach out .

    1. P

      Great hou are %100 right, and thanks for building America !

    2. sailor

      Learn how to run an engine lathe in metal shop class. Little did I know I’d follow a path that led me to becoming an aerospace machinist now a Model Maker. That Metal shop class gave me a incite at another career path besides college. Now most of the young machinist I work with get a 2 year Associates in machining from the community college, which is more in depth than High School Metal shop. Volcantional schools will give a skilled career also if you choose that route and it doesn’t cost you an arm an a leg.

  10. Dan Allcott

    nope. correlation is not causation.
    1. Shop classes should be taught. (I have graduate degrees, but enjoyed these classes, and used them to build skills that I still have)
    2. Federal and state funding for higher has plummeted.

  11. Maggie Peace

    Our program “Freedom rock experience ” was the brainchild of Jeff Senour to help fund the arts programs in schools. Please check us out CTSMUSIC.COM.

  12. Tere Rice

    The reason shop class disappeared is only the losers took the class and they were just wasting time.


      Don’t call me LOSER I took shop to improve my skills and improve I did,,,now I own the largest logging company in UPPER michigan ,,,,so KEEP YOUR STUPID COMMENTS TO YOUR

    2. Dick Bode

      Guidance used it as a dumping grounds for low academic achievers or troublesome students. It was the most expensive course to have in school because of the equipment. Also, liability came into play. The academic world figured it was more beneficial to teach all theory then hands on. Left teaching Industrial Ed after 6 years when the garbage men made more money than I did. Back to industry..

    3. Ronnie

      Wow what a moron you are! With that kind of mind set i bet you got beat up a lot in school.

    4. Joe Cornacchione

      I taught shop for 10 years in the High School. The problem was the Guidance Counselors and administration loaded these classes with the problem students after the fact. I generally had good students that initially enrolled and by the end of the third week of school, was loaded and overloaded with the problem students dumped into my class.
      I now teach construction 30 years later in a community college. The lack of basic skills are revealed at this level. The 9th graders that came into my program that had middle school industrial arts had way more skill coming into my shop than what I am putting out of my program at the Community College level.

    5. Norm

      I don’t think so…. It was the lossers that eliminated the classes…

  13. Dave

    “He said that the country’s leaders told students if they didn’t get a degree, then they would “wind up turning a wrench.””

    Now I know why he went on FOX. That’s just bull. I never heard that once. He’s just trying to disparage higher learning.

    I took shop in Jr and High School. I was there too. And our shop classes disappeared because the funding dried up (and lawyers and insurance companies drove up costs). Because good paying manufacturing jobs went to Asia folks could no longer afford to pay their taxes.

    Today, paying taxes is no longer seen as a civic duty. It’s not cool any more. The rates my parents and grandparents paid were a lot higher back then, and paid for things like shop classes.

    1. Michael

      I’d happily pay an extra $50-$100 a year on taxes if I knew it was going to pay for such programs. My question is why did the funds “dry up”? Maybe because the government stoped supporting them?

      1. Eric Toulon

        The money for a lot of school programs was redirected to fund the war on drugs.

    2. Jeff Dywan

      I was told if I didn’t go to College and get a degree I’d end up digging ditches. I went to College and got a degree and ended up digging ditches and love it!

    3. Laportama

      It was a significant Trend that men of a certain age were drafted if they did not go to college.

  14. Lois

    Have shop and industrial arts classes really disappeared in most parts of the country? We have them in my school district in mid-Missouri, and also two two-year public colleges were you can get certificates and AAS degrees in manual arts areas.

  15. Paul Hendrickson

    Labor names it’s own price these days because no one is going into the trades. There needs to be a balance between the two. College and trades

  16. 83ragtop50

    Very valid observations.