I had a sump pump installed in my basement the other week, which had me thinking about plumbers and one of the early posts on MB3 from September 2009 that you might want to check out if you missed it the first time around…


$1.2 Million. That’s my rough estimate of how much it will cost my three boys to get through four years of college. You think I’m kidding, but I’m not. According to a recent New York Times article, some of today’s private colleges now cost in excess of $50,000 per year for tuition, room and board (we’re not talking just Harvard either – Gettysburg, Colgate, Lafayette, Georgetown). That’s a lot of clams. According to the Times article, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities reported that this year’s average price increase was a ‘mere’ 4.3 percent (the lowest in 37 years). Using that math and compounding today’s $50,000 cost, that means that in 13 years when our oldest starts college (wait a minute – what?), one year will cost $86,430, totaling a whopping $368,000 over four years. In a frightening comparison, that figure is a relative bargain considering that his two younger brothers’ higher education will cost $384,000 and $455,000 when all is said and done. All of which adds up to $1.2M. All you parents of young children reading this may now collectively pick yourselves off the floor.

No wonder there is a growing national discussion about reevaluating the traditional path of a four-year college education as the “preferred” way to start one’s adult life and launch a respectable career. In the past few months I’ve had several conversations with friends and business associates over lunch on the topic of considering alternative routes. The unflattering portrayal in the new NBC show Community notwithstanding (the pilot was hilarious – check it out), trade schools and community colleges are on the rise as more people begin to consider whether all that money is really worth it. Even if you do decide that a Bachelor’s degree is right for your kid, the logic of studying for two years at a community school and then transferring out to a four-year school increasingly makes a lot of sense.

Taking all of these nauseating facts into account, I’ve decided that my sons and I are going to open our own plumbing business. That’s right, my three boys and their old man will become plumbers (hold all negative connotations please). The baby has already shown a keen interest in water so I think that he may be particularly suited for the trade. Hear me out – I’ve thought this through and it makes sense. According to the website for the United Association of Journeyman and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry (UA), one needs to complete a five-year apprenticeship to become a Journeyman plumber. During this time, a young man can earn a skill and a solid wage. Some sources suggest that plumbers can earn $25/hr to start. Contrast that with the $100k/year one of my sons (a.k.a. me) would be shelling out for a degree, and the numbers start to add up. After four years, instead of being $400k+ in the hole, they’ll be well on their way to being a Journeyman. And who wouldn’t want to have the title of Journeyman – that’s a man’s man title. According to a 2008 TIME article, How Much Do Plumbers Really Make, Journeymen in major cities can make upwards of $250,000 per year, while a master plumber (5-7 years experience) in Cincinnati seems to be bringing home $100,000.

So here’s the plan. In 8 years, I’m going to quit my job and learn the plumbing trade. My five-year apprenticeship period will be finished when our oldest graduates high school. I’ll have that prestigious Journeyman title, and we’ll be ready to hit the market with our very own Smith Brothers family plumbing business. If the boys go to the Vo-Tech high school, maybe even sooner. Right around the time baby brother graduates, we’ll be a year away from having three Journeymen and the dollars should be pouring in.

On the other hand, maybe I shouldn’t be so fast to flush those college dreams down the drain. One of the boys could get a free ride throwing a fastball 90 mph or become a quantum physicist – you never know. But in the meantime, I’m going to dig that pipe-wrench out of the toolbox and keep it handy just in case. After all, even Albert Einstein said, “I should have been a plumber!”

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