In a backlash to the college-for-all push, some are working to build an “alternative to colleges for young people who are not academically inclined,”, writes Charlotte Allen on Minding the Campus.
ACT has developed WorkKeys, which includes the National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC), to enable young people to show they’ve mastered skills needed for employment, such as applied mathematics (eighth-grade math), reading for information and locating information.
Now college is seen as the only path to a decent job for high school graduates.
. . . thanks to nearly six decades of federal and state policies designed to make college a universal experience—policies that include loans, grants, and the massive expansion of public campuses—about 68 percent of high school graduates duly enroll in a two-year or four-year institution of higher learning, 90 percent of them as full-time students, according to Labor Department statistics for 2010.
Only a fraction of community college students and 53 percent of students who enter four-year institutions ever earn a degree. The rest leave college with little to show for it but debt, Allen writes. Even the graduates may lack useful work skills.
In September the CEO of Caterpillar Inc., Doug Oberhelman, told a business audience in Calgary, Alberta: “We cannot find qualified hourly production people, and for that matter many technical, engineering service technicians, and even welders, and it is hurting our manufacturing base in the United States. The education system in the United States basically has failed them and we have to retrain every person we hire.”
Thirty-five states use ACT’s certificate or use it as a model for a state certificate of job readiness, but it is “not recognized by either employers or higher education,” said Davis Jenkins of Columbia’s Community College Research Center. Employers “recognize industry certificates, and they recognize degrees, which they use mainly to screen job candidates for motivation and some sort of basic literacy.”
The Manufacturing Institute is using the NCRC as a baseline “competency” for would-be welders, machinists, quality-control specialists and mechanical designers. Trainees can go on to take occupation-specific competency tests in industrial trades. The goal is to create a series of “stackable” certificates and degrees that will build a career ladder.
For example, an 18-year-old armed with only a high school diploma (or even a GED) plus an NCRC certificate could attend a community college or technical institute part time to obtain a short-term technical certificate in welding, take and pass the AWS’s basic welding test, and go to work as an entry-level welder at around $16 an hour. The next step up the ladder might be a one-year technical certificate, also from a community college or technical institute, plus a safety certificate from the MSSC, which would qualify the young welder for a larger array of skilled manufacturing jobs. After that might come a two-year associate degree in applied science and more advanced certificates from the American Welding Society and then after that might come a two-year associate degree in applied science that, coupled with more advanced certificates from the AWS and the MSSC, would mean access to an even greater array of skilled, better paying jobs. The final step might be an engineering degree from a university–a bachelor’s, master’s, or even a doctoral degree,
The Gates Foundation and the Lumina Foundation are funding pilot programs. For example, Shoreline Community College just north of Seattle, has integrated the NCRC and certification from the National Institute for Metalworking Skills into its manufacturing program. Employers know graduates have the skills; students also can use credits to earn an associate or bachelor’s degree. The completion rate is 95 percent; 100 percent of graduates find jobs.
Tennessee’s 27 Technology Centers, which enable students to earn vocational certificates, also are a model of success with high completion and employment rates. Students spend two to 18 months in a highly structured program.