Alternatives to college abound
Alternatives to college abound
Academic hit man, Gap year
Apprenticeships and military offer pay for training
By Venice Buhain, The Olympian, 12/19/05
When Paul Krupski was a senior at Capital High School, he and his friends applied to college.

But he was not looking forward to more of the same.

“I had done 12 years of school in a row,” said Krupski, now 20. “It was time to try something new.”

Ricardo Rodriguez, 18, who graduated from Shelton High School in June, didn’t think he was the college type and hoped for options that would lead to a good career.

“I was tired of high school. And office work wasn’t my kind of thing,” he said.

Application and SAT deadlines loom over the holiday break, so it might seem to high school students that the only reward for all of that school is two to four (or more) additional years of school.

But that’s not true for all students. Between 10 percent and 60 percent of students in 2004 graduating classes — from need, desire or both — headed to something other than college after graduation, according to local school figures.

According to the state, about 41 percent of Washington students don’t go to college, a statistic that got the attention of Chris Mackey, Career Center specialist at River Ridge High School.

“I thought, ‘What am I doing for that 41 percent?’ ” she said.

Local educators want to make sure students know that college immediately after school is not the only road to a good future.

“I think the trend is for high schools to talk about four-year colleges, but that’s not what all students want,” said Stephanie Brodin, Career Center specialist at North Thurston High School.

Tumwater resident Cathy Heryford, mother of recent graduate Chris Heryford, 18, said she hopes parents open their minds to different possibilities. Her son seems to have found a niche as a carpenter’s apprentice, taking some classes at Bates Technical College in Tacoma and working on a construction site at Muckleshoot Casino.

“Chris never liked school,” she said. “My next child, she’s wanted to go to college since kindergarten.”

Brodin said she makes sure students know that choosing to explore the world of work is not worse than heading to college.

“I make sure we here at North Thurston High School tell students that this is an intelligent choice,” Brodin said. “There are many options available, and their choice is not a lesser choice.”

Often the problem is a lack of awareness of resources, she said. “Being able to know that there is training available helps them make a decision.”


Brodin said she encourages students to consider apprenticeship programs and hopes to bring more to North Thurston.

“They can make a very, very good living after an apprenticeship program,” she said. “And you get paid to learn.”

In Washington, the state department of Labor and Industries facilitates apprenticeship programs, which encompass 300 careers and 14,000 registered apprentices.

“They say it’s the ‘original four-year-degree,’ ” Labor and Industries spokesman Ron Langley said. “It’s a great alternative for high school students, or anyone who is not interested or not planning to go to college.”

Apprentices do much of their learning on the job, under experienced journeymen.

Rodriguez, the Shelton graduate, went from classes at New Market Vocational Skills Center to earning nearly $18 an hour as an apprentice carpenter at the Washington Middle School construction site in Olympia.

“We built dog houses at New Market. They were exactly like regular houses, but they were a lot smaller,” he said. “Now it’s the real thing — not a little dog house.”

He works 40 hours a week assisting journeymen with framing and doing smaller projects, like making forms for pouring concrete.

Rodriguez also has taken a few classes on carpentry math and work site safety.

Chris Heryford works at the casino site through a carpentry apprentice program.

“My mom was happy that I was able to go and start a good job after high school,” he said.

Though apprentices get paid salary and benefits during their four- or five-year program, they often must take evening classes and contribute to tuition, said Langley, of the Department of Labor and Industries.

“It takes some commitment,” Langley said.

Construction trades have traditionally had apprenticeship programs. But other fields are forming them as well, including child care, the culinary arts and health care.

“What we’re trying to do is expand it and make it more available to more people,” Langley said. “It’s a much broader opportunity than it once was.”

Military options

Most students are familiar with the military when they call Navy recruiter Chris Salzer on the phone or find him at their school.

Many interested students are referrals from previous recruits, Salzer said.

There are plenty of different types of jobs on military posts. The Navy gives recruits an aptitude test and a physical, and they’re matched to a job that fits.

Joining the military is one way to get paid for training, he said. Critics contend that being sent to war could be too high a price to pay for that training.

The travel and the training attracted Salzer to the military right out of high school 10 years ago. “It was a six-year road to be a civilian firefighter, or I could join the Navy and be a firefighter,” he said.

Students also are interested in the opportunity to travel or acquire an education as well, Salzer said.

Those who enlist often find themselves in a position to pay for college, which they might not have been able to do before, he said.

“There is 100 percent tuition assistance,” Salzer said. “So there are options for kids who may not have a silver spoon in their mouths.”


Krupski, the Capital High School graduate, sent an application to AmeriCorps’ National Civilian Community Corps program, which puts young adults ages 18 to 24 on public service projects for nonprofit and public agencies.

Krupski and his mother, Lynn, were happy to discover a program that paid him to do public service with little experience, he said.

If he had just volunteered, “I would have been paying out of my own pocket,” Krupski said.

After getting accepted, he was stationed in Washington, D.C., where he lived and worked with a team of 12 other young people.

Those in the program receive $4,725 for college, for graduate school, or to pay off student loans, according to AmeriCorps literature. Some get an annual living allowance of about $9,300.

During the 10 months Krupski was in the program, he helped hurricane victims in Florida, built homes for Habitat for Humanity and helped fight forest fires in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Lynn Krupski can’t get over how much her son learned during his year “off.”

“This is a boy who couldn’t do a load of laundry, and now he can do laundry and cook,” she said.

All of his friends started college in the fall after graduating in 2004. Krupski, who now is finishing his first semester at Gonzaga University, doesn’t feel like he’s lagging behind for having put off school.

“I feel like I can take on large tasks,” he said. “Finals don’t seem like a big deal.

“They started one year before me, but they are by no means ahead,” he said.

Venice Buhain covers education for The Olympian. She can be reached at 360-754-5445 or