And Texas high school and community college graduates would have high-paying, rewarding jobs waiting for them.
Pauken, who serves with the Texas Workforce Commission, wants to bring back auto shop class to high schools — along with other vocational training. He wants students to be able to choose to focus on skilled trades, rather than be forced into a one-size-fits-all college preparatory curriculum.
He points out that “while those who manage to get a college degree are finding the job market difficult for them, there is a huge demand — and a significant shortfall in qualified applicants — for those with skills training as welders, electricians, pipefitters, nurses, machinists, etc.”
More than half of recent college grads can’t get a job in their chosen field.
When asked in a recent editorial board meeting what three pieces of legislation he would like to see to address the issue, Pauken said his first wish would be creating multiple pathways to high school graduation, including academic with an emphasis on math and science, academic with an emphasis on humanities and fine arts, or a career-oriented path that results in a license or credentials upon graduation.
The other two pieces of legislation would be more emphasis on skills training at the community college level, offering associates degrees in specialized areas in high demands so students can get jobs; and to allow more dual-credit courses for students in career and technical education at the high school level.
Pauken said there needs to be more opportunities for high school students, whether they are interested in an academic, college-directed curriculum or a vocational/technical, career-driven curriculum.
“I think there’s a real prospect of significant legislation that would change the approach we’ve been traveling for more than a decade,” he said.
Pauken said he has worked with a broad coalition of people on the issue.
“We’re overdoing this high-stake standardized testing,” he said.
The Legislature will likely be focused on school finance when it convenes in January. And that’s important (Pauken, by the way, favors a broad-based consumption tax to help fund Texas public schools).
But we can’t ignore educational attainment. And skills training could very well be the best way to reduce dropouts, while at the same time providing real futures for many of our students.