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Study Hits South Carolina's Vocational Program

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South Carolina's vocational-education curriculum is inconsistent with the expressed goals and objectives of the state's overall vocational-education program and should be revised so that students may better compete in the job market, according to a recent study.

The South Carolina Department of Education has defined its 55 area vocational centers as specialized schools designed "to prepare students for immediate job entry and for continued specialization" after high school, according to the Southeastern Public Education Program, which sponsored the study.

Yet, despite the structural changes that have occurred in the state's economy, the vocational-education curriculum "remains substantially unchanged" and "students have continued to enroll in programs that may have little to do with preparing them for jobs," according to a report on that study, "Today's Students/Tomorrow's Workplace: Are They Ready for Each Other?"

System Lacks Focus

M. Hayes Mizell, director of the nonprofit public-education organization, said the vocational system lacks focus and needs to be re-evaluated so that its role in the state's economic-development strategy is clear.

"It's not clear that [the vocational-education curriculum] is being developed according to the demands of the workplace," Mr. Mizell said.

He noted that although South Carolina officials are discussing the state's high unemployment rate and how to recruit new businesses and industry, "we don't see people linking that to secondary education."

In 1980, more than 130,000 students out of South Carolina's 195,000 secondary students took vocational courses at a cost to the state of more than $50 million.

That year, one-third of the state's graduating seniors chose not to enroll in a postsecondary or technical institution, but decided instead to look for permanent employment, according to the report by Mr. Mizell's group.

The report noted that even though health-care training programs had the highest completion and placement rate of all the vocational programs offered in the state, less than 2 percent of the vocational students were enrolled in such programs.

In addition, the report points out that more than half of the business students were enrolled in the general clerical program, while less than 1 percent were taking courses in data processing--a field in which the demand for workers is growing.

The report contends that the mismatch between students and vocational courses that results in jobs is caused by a "first-come, first-served" policy. In most school districts, according to the report, students are asked to select three vocational courses. When the first choice has been filled, they are assigned their second or third options.

Some districts do require students to take an aptitude test, and all vocational courses are electives, according to the report.

The study, which the public-education group describes as the first descriptive analysis of South Carolina's vocational efforts designed to inform the general public, will be the subject of a hearing to be held this month by the Senate Education Committee of the state legislature.

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