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Skills-Based Trades Are Booming Among U.S. Students

Community colleges in the U.S. have seen a steep enrollment drop: 750,000 students have left two-year colleges or decided not to enroll since the pandemic began. Instead, students are flocking to programs or degrees that teach skilled trades, including agriculture, HVAC and automobile repair, and construction.

Over the last two years, approximately 1 million fewer students overall have enrolled in college — both four-year and two-year — according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Community colleges have been most affected, with an enrollment drop of 13%. 

Barriers to college increased during the pandemic, as hourly workers were laid off, children switched to remote schooling from home, and students tried to learn virtually from potentially disruptive environments.

Skill-based and technical programs have been the exception; across the U.S., associate degree programs in areas such as agriculture have continued to attract students. Workforce training programs that teach specialized skills like medical technicians, construction inspectors, electricians, and more have also been in demand as labor shortages continue. And while workers with degrees from four-year colleges often out-earn workers without, a recent study from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce found that 28% of workers with associate degrees earned more money than half of all workers with bachelor’s degrees.

Colombia Leans Left in Election Run Up

Colombia may elect a leftwing government for the first time in years in its upcoming presidential election, potentially changing its relationship with the United States. 

New polls show radical left candidate Gustavo Petro in the lead over more conservative competitors, center-right Federico Gutiérrez and populist Rodolfo Hernández, in advance of this weekend’s May 29 election. Experts say the election will likely go to a run-off in June, as no candidate is likely to get over 50% of the vote.

Petro has promised sweeping changes, including renegotiating Colombia’s free trade agreement with the U.S., legalizing the drug trade, and restoring diplomatic relations with Venezuela, whose president the U.S. doesn’t recognize. His campaign promises have made business leaders and landowners nervous, reports the Financial Times, and Colombia’s central bank, Banco de la República, says it has seen capital flight from the country leading up to the election.

U.S. Mortgage Debt Rises to $11 Trillion

American household debt has risen to nearly $16 trillion, in large part driven by over $11 trillion in mortgage debt, shows a new report from The Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The record-high debt comes as inflation and interest rates also hit new highs.

Mortgage debt — which rose by $250 billion in the first quarter of 2022 — makes up 71% of all household debt. Mortgage originations have increased by $197 billion since the start of the pandemic, a result of Americans relocating from cities and buying homes in the suburbs. This urban flight, driven by a desire for more space amid lockdowns and remote work, has also pushed the median home price up by 30% over the last two years.

Non-housing debt, such as student loans, automobile loans and credit card debt, grew by $17 billion in the first quarter, largely due to a $14 billion increase in student loans. Overall, household debt has increased by nearly $2 trillion since before COVID-19.

Finland’s Support for NATO Soars

An overwhelming majority of Finns (76%) support joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) since Russia’s attack on Ukraine, whereas previously, a majority of Finns opposed joining the intergovernmental military alliance, a recent Yle poll reports.

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues into a third month, the number of Finnish adults in favor of NATO membership has grown from 53% in February to 62% in March, and 76% in May. Support was strong across political parties, with the strongest support among backers of the Swedish People’s Party and the Centre.

Finland and Sweden, traditionally neutral countries, announced their bids to join NATO this week (though Turkey has blocked the start of the talks for both countries). Finland’s membership would double the alliance’s land border, adding the more than 800 miles of border that Finland shares with Russia and additional support in the Baltic Sea.

Climate Change Causes Heat Waves in India and Pakistan

Extreme heat waves have engulfed India and Pakistan since March, with temperatures rising to up to 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius), according to NASA. The temperatures, which are higher than average, are a result of climate change.

The effects of the heat waves include death, illness, reduced crop yields, poor air quality, and one of the worst electricity shortages in more than six years as power demands go up. While heat waves are common in the region this time of year, the number of spring heat waves has been increasing as global warming intensifies.

The deadly heat waves have also caused India — the world’s second-largest wheat producer — to ban wheat exports. India initially planned to fill the gap left by Ukraine and Russia, which together export more than a quarter of the world’s wheat. This and other factors have driven up global food prices — agricultural prices are up 41% compared to January 2021, with wheat prices up by 60%.

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