College Alternatives

Something about America’s vocational programs doesn’t really work too well. Jamie Merisotis and Stan Jones argued just that in the May/June issue of the Monthly. Well they’re not the only ones. According to an article in The Economist, the United states appears to have a “misplaced disdain for vocational education”:

America has a unique disdain for vocational education. It has supported such training since 1917; money now comes from the Perkins Act…. However, many Americans hate the idea of schoolchildren setting out on career paths—such predetermination, they think, threatens the ethos of opportunity.

As wages have risen for those with college degrees, scepticism of [career and technical education] CTE has grown too. By 2005 only one-fifth of high-school students specialised in an industry, compared with one-third in 1982. The share of 17-year-olds aspiring to four-year college, meanwhile, reached 69% in 2003, double the level of 1981. But the fact remains that not every student will graduate from university. The Council of Economic Advisers projects faster-growing demand for those with a two-year technical-college degree, or specific training, than for those with a full university degree.

Maybe the solution is to integrate career and technical education with college preparatory education. It might ultimately result in the same classes, but at least the label might help. According to the article, programs in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania have created promising programs that feature both technical training and academic courses.

The “career academies” in Pennsylvania apparently caused students’ eventual earnings to increase some 11 percent. Why is America so hostile to apprenticeship programs anyway?

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer