Candidates aren’t talking about community colleges

College costs are a major issue for Democratic candidates for governor and U.S. Senate, writes Rick Hess. Few Republicans are talking about college costs in their campaigns.

Democrats running for U.S. Senate are talking a lot about student loans. Again, most GOP candidates are not raising the issue.

For all the attention to career readiness and workforce issues, community colleges and apprenticeship programs aren’t getting much love. Just seven out of 70 gubernatorial candidates mention community college and just six out of 69 Senate candidates do. Just 10 gubernatorial candidates mention internship or apprenticeship programs (still more than mention community college!), while seven Senate candidates do. There are no obvious partisan differences on any of this.

Just five out of 139 candidates — in both parties — mention graduation rates.

Skilled trades don’t appeal to students


Manufacturing student at Macomb Community College

“Nearly everywhere he goes, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder talks about well-paying, but unfilled, welding, carpentry, machining and other skilled-trades jobs, as well as technical occupations in health care,” writes Rick Hagland in Bridge Magazine. Yet, community college training programs in skilled trades are having difficulty recruiting students.

Skilled trades workers can earn $50,000 to $100,000 a year, say community college officials. But many students are dubious, especially if they have family members who lost manufacturing jobs in the recession.

“We’ve done a great job of convincing kids to go to college, but we’ve left the skilled trades out,” said Michael Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association.

Just 4.5 percent of Michigan community college students were enrolled in technical or industrial programs in the 2012-13 academic year, according to the state Workforce Development Agency. Another 7.7 percent were enrolled in health occupation programs.

. . . “For the most part, it’s hard to interest people in the 18-to-24 age group in occupations like welding and CNC (computer numerical control) machine operators,” Hansen said.

Employers want skilled workers, said Joe Petrosky, dean of engineering and advanced technology at Macomb Community College. “We’ve seen the demand for worker training come roaring back,” he said.

Eight community colleges in the state, including Macomb, will use a $24.9 million federal grant “to upgrade facilities and train more than 2,700 workers in machining, production, welding and fabrication, and multi-skilled technical positions,” writes Hagland.

Macomb also is among four community colleges in the state participating in the new MAT2 apprenticeship program, a three-year training program for engineering technician, information technology and technical product design jobs.

High school seniors and recent graduates entering the program get paid for on-the-job training from employers who also pay tuition costs. Those who complete the program get an associate degree and a guaranteed job.

Mottt Community College in Flint, Oakland Community College in Bloomfield Hills and Henry Ford College in Dearborn also will participate with 18 manufacturing employers.

Enrollment is declining at Michigan community colleges.

Employers, colleges try German-style job training

Germany’s job training model — a mix of vocational classwork and on-the-job apprenticeships — is catching on in the U.S., reports Jon Marcus for the Hechinger Report.

Students at Indiana’s Ivy Tech community colleges will be able to spend three days a week in class and two working — for pay — at companies such as Industrial Electric.

Ivy Tech plans to add programs in advanced automation and robotics, collaborating with employers who run assembly plants.

Students at Ivy Tech Community College. (Photo: Ivy Tech Community College)

Ivy Tech students practice welding skills. Photo: Ivy Tech Community College
In addition to Indiana, German-style job training programs are in the works in more than a dozen states.

The Obama administration is promoting academic credit for apprenticeships.

However, funding apprenticeships is expensive. “In Germany, employers pay 75 percent of the $19,850 annual cost of each trainee, and the government covers the rest,” writes Marcus. Ivy Tech is trying to get employers to cover the cost for trainees they hire.

Only about 10 percent of American 18- to 22-year-olds get on-the-job training, the OECD reports.

High youth unemployment and a shortage of skilled workers is a problem in Europe too, except for Germany, reports The Economist.

‘College for all’ includes community college


Stop Feeding High-School Students the Myth That College is Right For Everyone, writes Karen Cates in Businessweek.

While unemployment among recent college grads is 8.5 percent, 46 percent of recent grads consider themselves “mal-employed” in low-level jobs that don’t require a degree, she writes.

Meanwhile, construction and other trades are seeking skilled workers. However, employers won’t hire just anyone.

With recent advances in materials and computer science, the work in construction and many other trades is getting more complex, requiring new cognitive skills in many cases. “We don’t consider our apprentice and training programs as just a good alternative for individuals who cannot or do not want to go to college,” says John Grau, CEO of the National Electrical Contractors Association. “Based on the sophistication of our trade and the high level of training it requires, a good number of our applicants enter our [training] program after earning a college degree.”

Yes, everyone should go to college, responds Libby Nelson on Vox. That includes going to community college to qualify for good blue-collar jobs.

Many people imagine a bright line between college and vocational education — Ph.Ds on one side, plumbers on the other. That line doesn’t exist, and it hasn’t for at least a generation. Particularly at two-year colleges, programs for future English majors and future auto mechanics often exist side-by-side. One path might lead to an associate degree, the other to a certificate, but they’re both at a place called “college.”

As higher education economist Sandy Baum wrote in a report for the Urban Institute: “It is common to hear the suggestion that many students should forgo college and instead seek vocational training. But most of that training takes place in community colleges or for-profit postsecondary institutions.”

About 30 percent of construction workers and 20 percent of industrial workers have earned a vocational license or credential, according to the Census. They earn more than workers without a credential but less than those with a degree. Eighty-two percent of workers with vocational credentials earned them at a college, Nelson writes.

In other words, the vocational path to the middle class usually runs through a community college job training program. And those with weak reading, writing and math skills will have trouble succeeding in job training or persuading an employer they’re good candidates for on-the-job training.

Success paths for all

How can high schools ensure graduates are college- and career-ready, asks an Education Next forum.

Students need multiple pathways, writes Robert Schwartz, a Harvard professor emeritus who coleads the Pathways to Prosperity Network. “We have allowed a very important idea—that all students need a solid foundation of core academic knowledge and skills—to morph into a not-so-good idea: that all students need to be prepared to attend a four-year college,” he writes.

If we follow a cohort of 8th graders, roughly 2 in 10 will drop out before high school graduation, and another 3 will graduate high school but choose not to enroll in postsecondary education. Of those who do go on and enroll in four-year institutions, nearly 4 in 10 will drop out before attaining a degree. Of those who enroll in community colleges, roughly 7 in 10 will drop out. The bottom line: by age 25, only 33 percent of the cohort will have attained a four-year degree, and another 10 percent will have earned a two-year degree.

Many good jobs require some education beyond high school but not a four-year degree, Schwartz writes. He likes the northern European model: “All students pursue a common curriculum up through grade 9 or 10, and then choose between an academics-only pathway leading to university and a more applied-learning pathway leading to a vocational qualification.”

Instead of letting students choose their path, we “force march all students” through a math sequence leading to calculus, a goal few will achieve and even fewer will need, he writes.

Yet most community college students and many university students aren’t prepared for college algebra. “In my view, the vast majority of students in two- and four-year institutions would be much better served by getting a solid grounding in data, statistics, and probability in high school,” he writes.

Common foundational skills are essential, writes Cynthia G. Brown, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. All students should take a college-prep curriculum, but high school students could choose “curricular options that fit their interests, skills, and plans for the future.”

Apprenticeship: Is it time?

Factory apprenticeship is the latest model from Germany, reports the New York Times. After the first 60 workers were hired at BMW’s South Carolina factory, “it seemed like we had sucked up everybody who knew about diesel engines,” said Joerg Klisch, vice president for North American operations of Tognum America. The factory needs workers who can repair robots and operate computers.

Tognum has created an apprenticeship program in partnership with local high schools and a career center.

“South Carolina offers a fantastic model for what we can do nationally,” said Ben Olinsky, co-author of a forthcoming report by the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington research organization, recommending a vast expansion in apprenticeships.

In Germany, apprentices divide their time between classroom training in a public vocational school and practical training at a company or small firm. Some 330 types of apprenticeships are accredited by the government in Berlin, including such jobs as hairdresser, roofer and automobile electronics specialist. About 60 percent of German high school students go through some kind of apprenticeship program, which leads to a formal certificate in the chosen skill and often a permanent job at the company where the young person trained.

In the U.S., apprenticeships face obstacles from left and right, reports the Times. “School officials were wary of allowing a private company to dictate the curriculum,” while employers feared apprenticeships meant unions.

Young people in their 20s and 30s can apply to be BMW Scholars. They  study full-time at local technical colleges for two years while working in the BMW factory for 20 hours a week.

Apprenticeship closes the skills gap, writes Mary Alice McCarthy, a New America Foundation policy analyst, on EdCentral. But many employers aren’t willing to develop new workers’ skills.

Instead, employers wait for the perfect job candidate, reports Time in The Real Reason Recent Grads Can’t Get Hired. Companies say they can’t find “team players, problem solvers [who] can plan, organize and prioritize their work.”

Business has shifted the onus of skills development almost entirely onto job seekers” and local education providers, writes McCarthy.

Young workers in the 1970s received an average of 2.5 weeks of training per year. By contrast, a 2011 survey of employees and employers by Accenture revealed that only 21% of workers had received any formal training in the last five years.

Young people need the chance to learn on the job “how to navigate an organization, manage a work project, communicate effectively with colleagues, supervisors, and clients and solve work-specific problems,” McCarthy writes.

Cooking is hot in Kansas

Culinary arts is hot at Johnson County Community College (Kansas), reports the Wichita Eagle. With 700 students, JCCC has the largest culinary apprenticeship program in the country. A new Hospitality & Culinary Academy is so modern “it’s almost like walking on the deck of the Starship Enterprise,” says Mark Webster, president of the Greater Kansas City Chefs’ Association.

Students can earn an associate degree of applied science and sous chef certification in three years, with lots of on-the-job training. Or they can go for an associate degree and culinarian certification in food and beverage management.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts growing demand for chefs and head cooks. “The food service industry has really rebounded, and more people are eating out than ever before,” says Lindy Robinson, dean of the college’s business division.

 Enter the main doors of the lobby, and to the left there’s a glass-walled innovation kitchen where JCCC’s student culinary team already has started practicing for its upcoming competition in South Korea. To the right, doors slide open to reveal a 75-seat demonstration kitchen in a theater with a video production room so classes with master chefs can be taped and broadcast on the college’s cable channel.

In the “garde manger,” or cold foods culinary lab, a hook-and-chain pulley system is suspended from a reinforced ceiling. The support beams are strong enough to hang a 350-pound side of beef – Exhibit A in a newly offered butchering class that will emphasize utilization from nose to tail.

Indoor smokers and a 4-foot grill plus patio space to accommodate outdoor cooking give students a better understanding of the techniques behind grilling, smoking and barbecuing.

. . . The cooking labs are set up so 32 students at a time can “work the line,” a simulation of a real-life restaurant environment. The addition of a blast freezer allows pastry students to quickly cool their petit fours and ice them with fondant in a single class period, a time-saving technique typically used in the industry. The new commercial wok gives students the opportunity to explore Asian cuisine in greater depth.

Private culinary schools may charge $40,000 or more for an associate degree. Community colleges typically charge one-tenth that, says Michael McGreal of the American Culinary Federation, who heads the culinary department at Joliet Junior College in Illinois.

21st century vo-tech

The New Vo-Tech is helping students prepare for skilled careers — and for college, writes Del Stover for American School.

 Not long ago, a manufacturer asked for assistance from the Pickens County Career and Technology Center (South Carolina). A factory robot needed to be retooled for a new product, and the company’s technicians were too busy to do the work. Could the high school’s students take on the project?

. .. Soon, students were installing a new welding arm and reprogramming the robot, even though the company didn’t have a technician’s manual to help with the work.

“After we finished that, the company said they were going to put the robot on line at the plant, and they’d need maintenance,” (Principal Leonard) Williams says. “So they hired one of our kids for an apprenticeship … and hired another kid from our electronics program.”

Vo-tech — often called career and technical education (CTE) — works best when schools work closely with local employers.

In Pickens County, 1,100 students “study everything from auto repair and high-tech welding to pre-engineering and medical sciences.” Some work in school workshops or apprentice at local companies. Others earn college credits at a local technical school or work toward vocational certifications.

 High school senior Toby Wofford took part in an apprenticeship program with a local manufacturer and has decided to stay on with the company after graduation. He is working part-time while seeking an associate’s degree at the firm’s expense.

Meanwhile, senior Conner Smith, who originally studied mechanical and architectural drafting at the technical center, says his experience sparked an interest in engineering that he’ll pursue in college.

In Europe, vocational education isn’t seen as a dead end, says Nancy Hoffman, author of Schooling in the Workplace. Vocational students can go on to technical colleges and universities. In the U.S., vocational education is seen as less rigorous, fit for low-performing students who aren’t going to college. There’s a stigma, says Hoffman.

“CTE prepares young people for high-demand jobs — in career areas where there are significant opportunities for middle-class wages. These jobs may require skills that may be slightly different  than what’s offered in traditional academics, but there are rigorous levels of math and writing required. This is not a dumbed-down version of high school.”

Career-tech courses don’t hurt — or help — math achievement, concludes a new study. Federal legislation has attempted to integrate career and academic courses to prepare more students for STEM careers and college majors.

Skills gap widens — or does it?

By 2020, there will be five million more jobs requiring university degrees than there will be four-year graduates to fill them, if current graduation trends continue, according to new research from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. Thirty-five percent of job openings will require at least a bachelor’s degree and 30 percent will require some college or an associate’s degree, the Recovery report projects.

But reports of a widening skills gap have generated widening skepticism, reports Jon Marcus for the Hechinger Report.

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Georgetown foresees “a major shortage of college-educated workers, especially as baby boomers retire,” says Anthony Carnevale, the center’s director.

If the report is accurate, 23.6 percent of the workforce will need bachelor’s degrees and 10.9 percent will need graduate degrees, says economist Robert Lerman, an Urban Institute fellow. That’s close to the current percentages.

Georgetown also projects 12.7 percent of workers will need associate’s degrees, more than the 10.8 percent who have them currently.

Apprenticeships could substitute for associate degrees in some cases, Lerman believes.

Nearly half of four-year graduates said their jobs don’t require a college degree in a McKinsey survey last month.

Critics say previous warnings of a job skills gap haven’t come true. “It keeps going through these cycles,” says Hal Salzman, a professor of planning and public policy at Rutgers. “And every time it’s raised, there are serious studies that are done, and they say, ‘We can’t find the shortage.’”

The “middle-skills” jobs gap is real, but sending more young people to college isn’t the only answer, says Salzman. “College is not for everybody, and it’s really not an efficient way to do a lot of workplace preparation, if that’s our goal.”

Generation jobless

Youth unemployment is a worldwide problem, reports The Economist in  Generation jobless. Yet many employers in countries from the U.S. to Morocco say they can’t find entry-level workers with the right skills.

Poor basic education is only part of the problem.

Countries with the lowest youth jobless rates have a close relationship between education and work. Germany has a long tradition of high-quality vocational education and apprenticeships, which in recent years have helped it reduce youth unemployment despite only modest growth.

Countries with high youth unemployment are short of such links. In France few high-school leavers have any real experience of work. In north Africa universities focus on preparing their students to fill civil-service jobs even as companies complain about the shortage of technical skills. The unemployment rate in Morocco is five times as high for graduates as it is for people with only a primary education.

Employers do much less training on the job.

Many countries are trying to improve vocational schools and develop apprenticeships, reports The Economist.

In 2010 South Korea created a network of vocational “meister” schools—from the German for “master craftsman”—to reduce the country’s shortage of machine operators and plumbers. . . . In Britain some further-education colleges are embracing the principle that the best way to learn is to do: North Hertfordshire College has launched a business venture with Fit4less, a low-cost gym. Bluegrass College in Kentucky and Toyota have created a replica of a car factory, where workers and students go to classes together.

Bluegrass is a community and technical college, so job training is part of the mission. Many community colleges work closely with employers on workforce development.

Via Meadia has more thoughts on practical vs. academic education.