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Vocational Education Gets Belated Respect

By Walt Gardner — January 16, 2017 1 min read
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Rising student debt, coupled with a high underemployment rate, are finally forcing the millennial generation to get real about their expectations (“A Working Education,” The Atlantic, Jan. 13). For too long, they’ve bought into the argument that a four-year degree was the ticket to a bright future. But with 45 percent of recent college graduates underemployed and young people constituting 40 percent of the unemployed, they’re rightly having second thoughts.

That’s why Career and Technical Education programs are gaining in popularity. I say it’s long overdue. The reality is that middle-skills jobs accounted for 54 percent of the job market. That surpassed the number of both high-skills and low-skills jobs combined. Unless young people have strong motivation for a specific field requiring a bachelor’s degree, I believe they’re better off taking advantage of offerings by community colleges in unfilled sectors. They’ll avoid going into debt while learning skills badly needed.

Other countries are way ahead of the U.S. in this regard. Germany, for example, is known for the quality of its vocational training programs. Only the strongest academically qualify for university. I fail to see why the U.S. can’t follow in Germany’s footprints. There’s no shame in a vocational curriculum. There will always be a need for plumbers and auto mechanics. For those who like to work with their hands, these fields pay well and provide instant gratification.

As Charles Murray wrote in Real Education, it’s “educational romanticism” to believe that everyone is able to handle college-level work. But high school counselors persist in advising almost all their charges to apply to a four-year college or university. No wonder the dropout rate is so high.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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