College bubble closer to popping

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The Wall Street Journal tells the tale of Justin Friend, a 24-year-old Texan earning $140,000 a year after a two-year technical degree in welding. The kicker: Friend???s parents both have Ph.D.???s. ???Not everybody needs a four-year college degree,??? his mother told the paper.

High school counselors, who once almost automatically steered smart kids toward four-year colleges, now are more aware of the job opportunities for those with technical skills, said Steve Schneider, a counselor in Sheboygan, Wis. ???The battle continues to be convincing the parents,??? he said. ???That gets easier when we start talking about money.???

??? Mr. Friend, who is single, typically works 72 hours a week, often including at least one weekend, often on an overnight shift. His base pay is more than $25 an hour, up from about $22 when he started in 2012. He gets overtime after 40 hours a week. Pay is doubled on Sundays and tripled on holidays. He receives health insurance, a 401k retirement plan and paid vacation.

Elsewhere in its pages, the Journal offers a critique of President Barack Obama???s latest big-government fantasy: taxpayer-paid community college for all. At the same time Obama wants to enshrine another entitlement, says Michelle Weise, the market has been solving the problem of employers using a college degree to signal employee aptitude, which has contributed to rising costs and tumbling quality.

We should turn our attention to innovations springing up in alternative credentials, competency-based programs and micro-certifications that validate what a student actually knows and can do. This marketplace of non-degree credentials, according to Georgetown University???s Center on Education and the Workforce, is a $500 billion industry.

Weise describes employers such as Apple and Google going directly to non-college credentialers of potential employee knowledge, such as software coding camps and certification providers. The more this happens, the more employers get the employees they want without using an often-useless college degree as a sorting mechanism.

If Obama???s college entitlement proposal passes, it will short-circuit this promising opportunity.