“College for all” is, as Kay Hymowitz points out on an article headlined “Trading Up,” the foundation of U. S. education policy.
In the name of college for all, Americans in their late teens assume staggering college loan debt loads that will prevent them from buying a house at the appropriate time.
Meanwhile, the noncollege kids have been overlooked. Are you doomed if you don’t go to college? Since President Trump came to office, Hymowitz notes, there is a renewed focus on these “back row kids,” the ones who, for economic or other reasons, will not go to college. Part of this focus means recovering the dignity of working in a trade.
Hymowitz visits a remarkable institution, Williamson College of the Trades in Media, Pennsylvania. It is an all-male, three-year school, and Hymowitz admits that “barring a philanthropic miracle,” it cannot be replicated. Williamson College of the Trades has a generous, more than century-old endowment. But if the school can’t be exactly replicated, lessons can be learned.
Williamson sounds like an anachronism—a good one:
It’s a residential institution where 19- to 22-year-old kids from hard-up families line up in ties and jackets every morning to be inspected before going to chapel and pledging allegiance to the American flag, and where anyone who violates the no-drugs-and-alcohol policy is immediately out on his ear, no exceptions. And some might laugh at the notion of promising trade-school graduates starting with pay as high as $75,000, and maybe even $105,000, a year debt-free—a future that many Ivy League grads would envy.
. . .
With its old-timey rituals, rigorous scheduling, and immersive culture, Williamson has a military-school feel. Indeed, the school’s president for the past six years, Michael Rounds, is a West Point graduate and veteran of the 101st Airborne who served in Iraq. Students line up every morning at 7:15 to the sound of reveille as a crew of four students raises both the American and Williamson flags.
At 10 PM, students are back in their dorm rooms. Beards and mustaches are forbidden. Freshmen must do kitchen patrol once a week, cleaning the dishes of staff and fellow students. If students break rules, even relatively minor ones like walking on the grass instead of the campus pathways, they find themselves working “hours” on the grounds crew on a Saturday.
Unlike many American institutions, Williamson does not regard masculinity as toxic:
Williamson’s character education is grounded in an old-fashioned ideal of masculinity. At the morning chapel I attended one Friday, an alumnus wearing a red Williamson tie gave a talk he titled “What It Means to Be a Man: One Man’s Perspective.” “Good morning, Williamson men!” he began. “The world tells us that men seek power, that they are defined by the size of their house or their money. . . . Williamson tells us what makes a man is something else.”
He went on to describe three famous figures exemplifying the humility and self-restraint that made them fine men: George Washington, who rejected the title of king for the more modest “Mr. President,” thereby “choosing country before self”; Jackie Robinson, who “had the courage not to fight back” when mentor Branch Rickey deliberately tested the ballplayer’s self-control with a racist slur; and Eagles quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles, “who could have gone to any team but preferred to stay with the Eagles.” (Alas, Foles has since moved on to the Jacksonville Jaguars; but at the time, students applauded the local hero.)
Williamson alums are generous to their alma mater, but not to grease the path for their children. Most of their kids aren’t eligible to attend. The Williamson fathers have done so well that their sons don’t meet the low- income requirement to enter Williamson.
In a era when we read so much that is depressing about institutions that prepare young people for life, this is definitely a feel-good story. I urge you to read the entire article.