Most high school seniors know where they want to go to college next year and most of them think they know what they want to study, then do for a living for the next 40-plus years.

Bruce Wallace

Bruce Wallace

Uh. Yeah. The old adage about loving your work is still critical.

But a good percentage of high school students don’t know what they want to do for the rest of their lives – and I think that’s OK.

But high school students are making their minds up, applying to colleges and making plans for their degree earlier than ever before.

That goes against what I’m used to – but they are, I’ve learned, on the right path.

If we have learned anything since the recession, it should be that regardless of what you think you may want to do, teens need a college education or job skill training more now than ever before.

I had this discussion with a few moms in the past few weeks and they are concerned about their children’s post-high school plans – or the lack thereof.

In this decade of accelerated change, it is no wonder that those moms are worried about their teen’s focus, motivation and outlook on getting more education.

Just before Christmas, Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen defended the value of higher education as a protection against the pressures of a technological change and globalization at a university graduation speech. Yellen noted recent improvements in the economy, which she said has created one of the strongest job markets in years for graduates.

Some of those graduates might be worried, Yellen said, about paying off students loans which enabled them to get those degrees. “The good news is that the vast majority of student borrowers who complete their degrees find work that allows them to keep cup with their payments and pay off their loans,” Yellen said.

However, Yellen voiced the same concern that some of the local moms I spoke to had for their own teens.

“We must find other ways to extend economic opportunity to everyone in America,” Yellen said, noting that many workers won’t attend college.

I understand that, however, in listening to local parents it has become obvious that a non-college route for high school grads means some planning.

“If you don’t go to college, get that degree – you will need to be either in the military or get tech school training,” a parent told me bluntly. “There are not many options.” I have had many high school counselors tell me over the years that “college is not for every student.”

I can’t disagree with that, yet, despite the promises of a new President, the economy is proving to us that more and more, college needs to be for more students.

No doubt, the speech Yellen gave in December was not political, but more of an affirmation of what those college students had accomplished. However, it could also have been a word of warning. Yellen did not come by her “get a college degree” opinion lightly:

• A separate New York Federal Reserve report found college graduates over the past 40 years have earned 56% more that high school graduates.

• The Labor Department reported late last year that college graduates had a lower unemployment rate – 2.3% in November 2016 – than workers with high school diplomas but no college experience.

Moms – from southern Boone to the chairwoman of the New York Federal Reserve – might be wise to listen to. The incoming president has vowed to bring jobs back to the United States – and I’m all for that – but anyone can realize that the “jobs” that President-elect Trump claims have gone to China and Mexico are as much jobs lost to technology and a technically skilled, well-educated labor force as they are jobs lost to low-wage countries.

Future jobs – good jobs – are those which will require technical skills learned either at a university or at least at a technical college. Will we still look to craftsmen and those who can create with their hands?

Of course. But not at the rate we did 25 or 50-years ago.

What we have built in recent decades is a service economy which has created a sharper inverted pyramid – and fewer and fewer of those who can say they are in the middle class.