Pretty much everyone agrees on the principle: college is a wonderful thing, but it’s not everyone’s thing. With the country facing a shortage of skilled workers (electricians, plumbers, welders) and college costs rising faster than inflation, vocational education makes sense for more and more of our young people.
That’s why it was a mistake for President Barack Obama to inject politics into the issue last month.
“Instead of going through Congress and making the initiative bipartisan, President Obama acted alone in mid-November, promising $100 million in grants to specialized high schools — such as New York City’s Pathways in Technology Early College High School — that prepare students for technical careers,” Tamar Jacoby writes in the Los Angeles Times. “The president’s on the right track, but why make it partisan? Schools like P-TECH are an idea whose time has come — one that can be adopted by both parties and by business as well as government.”
There’s widespread agreement that we should take a fresh look at vocational education. College is fine for many students, and more than 90 percent of high school students expect to attend college.
“But there’s also mounting evidence that the college-for-all model isn’t working,” Jacoby writes. “Nearly half of those who start a four-year degree don’t finish on time; more than two-thirds of those who start community college fail to get a two-year degree on schedule. Even students who graduate emerge saddled with debt and often without the skills they need to make a decent living.”
But jobs in other sectors of the economy go unfilled.
“With more than 11.3 million Americans out of work, there are 3.7 million unfilled job openings — due largely to the growing mismatch between workers’ skills and employers’ needs,” Jacoby notes.
We’ve embraced this new thinking in Tyler; last spring, voters approved a $33.5 million Career and Technical Training Center, which will house 16 career and technical training programs, from welding, engineering, criminal justice and auto collision repair to health sciences and energy.
Jacoby also urges business leaders to embrace vocational education — with more than an occasional check or brief tours for students. “Business needs to do more if CTE is to reach its full potential,” she writes.
Again, in Tyler, we’re already there. Tyler firms are already participating in vocational education for TISD students, and when the new career center comes online, they’ll increase those efforts.
The White House recognizes the need for more educational options for American students.
“The Administration’s efforts to redesign high schools were unveiled in the 2013 State of the Union address, in which the President called for $300 million in new funding at the Department of Education to transform the high school experience for America’s youth,” the White House said. “This effort, currently before Congress, would challenge high schools and their partners to rethink teaching and learning and put in place learning models that are rigorous, relevant, and better focused on real-world experiences.”
Still, Obama should have sought congressional cooperation for the measure.
Going around Congress only served to make it partisan.