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4-year college often the wrong path for high-wage, high-demand careers, Stevens Tech speaker warns

02/08/2017 Lancaster Online By Jeff Hawkes

By all means, consider going to college, Kevin Fleming, a self-described recovering academic elitist, tells high school students. But do so with eyes open.

Two or three generations ago, a college degree was a reliable gateway to a meaningful career and financial success. It still can be, says Fleming, 38, dean of instruction at a Los Angeles-area community college.

But a four-year degree, if not aligned with skills required for success in today’s high-tech economy, can also be a waste of brain power. It can lead to uninspiring, low-pay work and a mountain of student debt, something Fleming learned the hard way.

He encourages students to assess their strengths and interests, investigate careers they find meaningful and then plan an efficient educational quest to acquire the academic background and technical skills employers in the field covet. Some students will need four or more years of college. Many won’t.

Speaking next week in Lancaster, Fleming will deliver a sobering dose of reality to what he calls the myth of the college-for-all philosophy.

Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology is hosting Fleming at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 15 at the Lancaster County Convention Center for a free talk titled “Defining the Goal: True Career Readiness.”

The talk is aimed at middle school and high school students and their parents. Employers and educators are also encouraged to attend.

The college says it will award full-tuition scholarships to three qualifying students who attend. (The scholarship, however, is not a guarantee of admission.)

In addition, Lancaster County Career & Technology Center will award a $5,000 scholarship toward any of its post-secondary programs.

Click here to register for the event.

Skills gap

Fleming’s message is a timely one for Lancaster County, where many employers struggle to find workers who have the technical skills their operations require.

Kevin Fleming, a community college dean, will speak Wednesday, Feb. 15 on career readiness.

Fleming said in a phone interview he’ll discuss the potential pitfalls of going to a four-year college and advocate for personalized career planning starting as early as middle school.

He said his story as the first in his family to attend college is illustrative of what can go wrong.

Fleming found himself working in the file room of a mortgage company after graduating from Loyola Marymount University with bachelor’s degrees in psychology and philosophy. He owed over $100,000 in student loans.

“I was a quote-unquote success story” in having two college degrees, he said. “Financially, I had no idea what I was going to do.”

More schooling

He went back to school and wracked up more debt in getting a master’s degree in educational leadership, then a master’s of business administration followed by a doctorate in education.

He consumed 15 years of higher education before getting his career firmly on track. He wants to help students avoid the same trap.

“We’ve turned college into the goal rather than the means to an end,” Fleming said. “We need to redefine the goal as being employed in a career where there’s an alignment of desire and skill and where workers are happy. The economy is better when people love what they do.”

Other sponsors of Fleming’s talk are Lancaster Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13 and LNP Media Group.

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