Opinion
Education Opinion

Vocational Education Needed Now More Than Ever

By Walt Gardner — April 09, 2012 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The monetary value of a bachelor’s degree in the years ahead will not be as certain as it was in the past. Most of the 14 million new jobs that will be created in the next decade will be in fields that typically can be filled by those with an associate’s degree. The trouble is that only about 25 percent of students enrolled in community colleges graduate. Equally disturbing is that too many post-secondary private vocational schools operate without state approval (“More Than 130 Vocational Schools Are Operating Without State Approval,” The New York Times, Apr. 5).

That’s why a new school in Brooklyn, N.Y. serves as a promising model. The Pathways in Technology Early College High School or P-Tech offers a science, technology, engineering and math curriculum that leads to the simultaneous granting of a high school diploma and an associate’s degree (“These Schools Mean Business,” Time, Apr. 9). The goal is to equip its graduates with the knowledge and skills for entry- and mid-level employment at tech companies. P-Tech achieves this objective by partnering with the New York City Education Department, the New York City College of Technology, the City University of New York and IBM.

Employers have loudly complained that they can’t find skilled workers for jobs made available as baby boomers retire. They say that too many graduates with bachelor’s degrees lack the wherewithal to step in to fill open places. We can argue all day long that the purpose of a bachelor’s degree goes beyond whether it prepares graduates for immediate employment. But when students go into heavy debt to pay for their bachelor’s degree, who can blame them if they demand evidence that they will be gainfully employed?

Holders of a bachelor’s degree, for example, can expect to make $2.3 million over a lifetime, compared with $1.3 million for those with only a high school diploma, according to a recent study by Georgetown University. However, “occupational choice can trump degree level. People with less education in high-paying occupations can out-earn people with more education in less-remunerative occupations” (“The College Payoff”). As a result, data about lifetime earnings need to be carefully parsed.

In light of the forecast, P-Tech and its clones are a welcome option, particularly because enrollment in community colleges has fallen in the last three years. In California, for example, enrollment has dropped by 300,000 since 2009, largely because students can’t register for the classes they need to graduate. Recognizing the harm, Santa Monica College announced that it will be the first in the nation to offer about 200 courses for $180 per credit hour, compared with $36 per credit hour at present (“2-Year College, Squeezed, Sets 2-Tier Tuition,” The New York Times, Mar. 30). But the college subsequently put its controversial plan on hold after students protested and questions about its legality and equity arose. Expecting private vocational schools to meet the demand is no answer because lax state oversight in California has allowed more than 130 private vocational schools to operate without the necessary approval.

Yet I wonder if the problem would be nearly as acute if vocational education was given the status and respect it deserves in high schools across the country. Career and technical education, as it is now called, is less expensive and less wasteful than the current obsession with emphasizing college for everyone (“Why Do So Many Americans Drop Out of College?” The Atlantic, Mar. 30). But don’t try telling that to policy makers.

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.

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Building Teacher Capacity for Social-Emotional Learning
Set goals that support adult well-being and social-emotional learning: register today!


Content provided by Panorama
Jobs October 2021 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Tiny Wrists in Cuffs: How Police Use Force Against Children
An investigation finds children as young as 6 and a disproportionate amount of Black children have been handled forcibly by police officers.
15 min read
Jhaimarion, 10, reacts as he listens to his mother, Krystal Archie talking with an Associated Press reporter in Chicago on Sept. 23, 2021. Archie’s three children were present when police, on two occasions, just 11 weeks apart, kicked open her front door and tore through their home searching for drug suspects. She’d never heard of the people they were hunting. Her oldest child, Savannah was 14 at the time; her youngest, Jhaimarion, was seven. They were ordered to get down on the floor.
Jhaimarion, 10, reacts as he listens to his mother, Krystal Archie talking with an Associated Press reporter in Chicago on Sept. 23, 2021. Archie’s three children were present when police, on two occasions, just 11 weeks apart, kicked open her front door and tore through their home searching for drug suspects. She’d never heard of the people they were hunting. Her oldest child, Savannah was 14 at the time; her youngest, Jhaimarion, was seven. They were ordered to get down on the floor.
Nam Y. Huh/AP
Education Gunman in 2018 Parkland School Massacre Pleads Guilty
A jury will decide whether Nikolas Cruz will be executed for one of the nation’s deadliest school shootings.
3 min read
Annika Dworet and her husband, Mitch Dworet, wipe away tears as their son's name is read aloud during Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz's guilty plea on all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. The Dworet's son, Nicholas Dworet, 17, was killed in the massacre.
Annika Dworet and her husband, Mitch Dworet, wipe away tears as their son's name is read aloud during Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz's guilty plea on all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. The Dworet's son, Nicholas Dworet, 17, was killed in the massacre.
Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP
Education Briefly Stated: October 20, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Gunman in Parkland School Massacre to Plead Guilty
The gunman who killed 14 students and three staff members at a Florida high school will plead guilty to their murders, his attorneys said.
4 min read
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is sworn in before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on all four criminal counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018, Cruz's lawyers said Friday that he plans to plead guilty to the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school.
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is sworn in before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on all four criminal counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018, Cruz's lawyers said Friday that he plans to plead guilty to the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school.
Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP