While President Obama focuses on sending more young people to college, “apprenticeships and other pathways to rewarding careers are more cost-effective for millions of young people,” argue Robert Lerman, an American University economics professor, and Nicholas Wyman, founder of The Institute for Workplace Skills and Innovation, on PBS NewsHour.
Photo by Ulrich Baumgarten via Getty Images.
Two out of every five young adults are unemployed, yet employers can’t find “machinists, computer numerical controllers, electricians, welders, healthcare technicians” and other workers with “middle skills,” Lerman and Wyman write. The idea that everyone should pursue a bachelor’s degree has created a skills gap.
They see encouraging signs:
In New York City, for example, ‘P-Tech’ school, a collaboration involving IBM, the City’s Education Department and CUNY, is providing a STEM oriented, grades 9-to-14 curriculum with work-based learning that leads to a high school diploma and an associates degree. P-Tech’s aim is to turn out graduates with the skills they need to step directly into solid, good paying technical jobs–or to go on the higher learning with great confidence of success.
South Carolina is strengthening career tech, developing first-rate technical colleges and boosting apprenticeships.
In Pickens County, which is part of Appalachia, the closure of cotton mills and textile plants has depressed incomes and expectations.
Yet the county’s K-12 school system is confidently preparing young people for decent careers. It begins in grammar school where children receive hands-on experience with STEM concepts and problem solving. It continues at the district’s state-of-the-art Career & Technical Center, where vocationally-oriented high school students have access to industry-experienced teachers and to the machine tools, computers, robotic systems, and other equipment they will encounter in the most modern workplaces. School leaders and teachers have also overturned the long-standing perception of parents and students that the Career & Tech Center is for low-achievers. Entry to the Center’s ‘Technician Scholar’ program is by application only; kids with low GPAs and bad attitudes need not apply. It’s now cool to be a “Scholar Technician.”
Local employers collaborate with superintendents, sending their managers and technicians to work with teachers and mentor promising students.
Apprenticeship Carolina, a state program, helps employers start apprenticeships programs and coordinates with local technical colleges. Since its 2007 start, apprenticeships have increased six-fold in the state.
Students with different goals need different skills, Lerman argues. “High schools fail so many kids partly because educators can’t get free of the notion that all students — regardless of their career aspirations — need the same basic preparation. As states pile on academic courses, they give less attention to the arts and downplay career and technical education to make way for a double portion of math.”
“Millions of young people will never attend four-year colleges,” writes Sarah Carr in the Wilson Quarterly. “America must do more to equip them to secure good jobs and live fulfilling lives.”
“College for all” is seen as the solution to poverty, writes Carr. President Barack Obama asked every American to pledge to attend at least one year of college.
In New Orleans, the city of Carr’s book, Hope Against Hope, reformers created college-prep charter schools.
At schools that have embraced the college-for-all aspiration, career and technical education is seen as being as outdated as chalkboards and cursive handwriting. Instead, the (mostly poor and mostly minority) students are endlessly drilled and prepped in the core humanities and sciences—lessons their (mostly middle- or upper-income and mostly white) teachers hope will enable the teenagers to rack up high scores on the ACT, SAT, and Advanced Placement exams and go on to attend the four-year college of their dreams (although it’s not always clear whose dreams we’re talking about).
Idealism should be tempered with pragmatism, Carr writes. Only one-third of low-income college students earn bachelor’s degrees by their mid-20s. Drop-outs may be thousands of dollars in debt.
A 2011 Harvard report, Pathways to Prosperity, described strong demand for “middle-skill” workers with vocational certificates or associate degrees. For example, electricians average $53,030, dental hygienists $70,700 and construction managers $90,960, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“College for all” isn’t a smart state or national education policy, but can make sense as the mission of a single school, responds Michael Goldstein, founder of MATCH, a high-performing charter school in Boston.
In Boston, many traditional high schools describe themselves as college prep, but they’re sort of half-hearted about it. Few alums actually graduate from college. College rah-rah is absent. But so is career rah-rah. There is no rah-rah. I’m not sure how Carr thinks about such schools.
College is the dream of low-income black and Hispanic parents, Goldstein writes. When a large, open-admissions high school in Boston surveyed parents — mostly black or Hispanic single mothers without a degree — more than 80 percent wanted their son or daughter to go on to college.
I’m not sure I agree that educators in urban college prep charters, see career and technical education as “outdated.”
. . . I think more typically — there’s a perception that the vo-tech offerings themselves are terrible, with really bad track record of actually connecting kids to the right jobs, the air-conditioning repair jobs that Carr writes about.
Boston’s vo-tech high school is considered by far the worst public school in the city.
MATCH has considered launching a vocational charter school, then measuring how graduates do in the job market, he writes.
To keep students from running up college debt, MATCH is helping graduates enroll in community college with an explicit transfer path after two years: “Kids say: ‘I’m going to Bunker Hill College to study X, then I’ll transfer as a junior to U-Mass’.”
Community colleges have low graduation rates, Goldstein acknowledges. He fears a “peer effect” that “normalizes dropping out.”
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.
In a few years, high school graduates in North Carolina will earn diplomas showing their readiness for university, community college or careers, reports the Raleigh News & Observer. Each seal requires a minimum 2.6 grade point average, basically a C+.
To earn the community college readiness seal, graduates must have completed Algebra II or integrated math III.
In February, the community college board decided graduates with a minimum 2.6 GPA can skip placement tests and start in college-level courses. The system’s research showed that 20 percent of students placed in remedial courses could have succeeded at the college level. High school grades are the best predictor of college success, the study concluded.
To earn the career readiness seal, students must
take four career/technical courses, score well on ACT’s WorkKeys exam, or have an industry-recognized credential, such a car repair certificate, Microsoft suite certification, or SAS programmer credentials.
High schools should put “our kids on a path to a good job,” said President Obama in the State of the Union speech.
Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so that they’re ready for a job. At schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn, a collaboration between New York Public Schools, the City University of New York, and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree in computers or engineering.
. . . Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy. We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.
Many high schools offer “dual enrollment” courses that let students earn college credits — usually through a local community college — while completing high school. Moving to a German-style apprenticeship system, which explicitly prepares students for skilled jobs, not for higher education, will take a lot more than money. It will take a major attitude change from college for all to competency for all. (Competency for most?) President Obama, whose administration cut funds for career tech programs, could lead the way.
Despite high unemployment, some 600,000 jobs in advanced manufacturing and other high-tech fields are unfilled for lack of qualified workers, testified Jay Timmons, CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
Chicago is trying to fill the skills gap.
Five high schools in the Chicago Public Schools district, including Corliss High School, Chicago Vocational Career Academy, and Lake View High School, began offering career-training tracks in September. The vocational programs are aligned with the needs of area businesses such as IBM, Motorola, and Verizon, which each partnered with a school to design alternative curricula, according to the CPS Website.
. . . Students enrolled in the program can earn a technical certification and credit toward an associate degree from City Colleges of Chicago, along with a high school diploma.
Two-year technical pathways can lead to lucrative careers, notes U.S. News. “Electrical engineering technicians earn a median salary of about $56,000 with an associate degree, and the median pay for nuclear technicians is roughly $68,000 with an associate’s, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.” Radiology technicians also earn high salaries with a two-year degree.
Proactive support for students improve success rates for career-tech programs at Washington community and technical colleges, concludes a Community College Research Center study. The study looked at high-performing and low-performing programs in allied health, business and marketing, computer and information studies, and mechanics and repair.
A common college-level mechanism in high-performing colleges was an early alert system, which provides a proactive and potentially consistent way to identify students who are having trouble with a course or a program of study and intervene before they fall too far behind.
One high-performing college used dedicated, knowledgeable allied health counselors to advise students, instead of counselors who handled all fields of study.
Higher performing programs were less likely to emphasize the associate degree and more likely to promote long-term vocational certificates that require fewer general education courses and let students enter the workforce quickly.
. . . an emphasis on earning a long-term certificate and then immediately seeking paid employment could provide students with more motivation to complete than a bigger picture focus on an associate degree to improve long-term career options.
Low-performing programs offered more short-term certificates, which tend to be less valuable in the workplace. It’s possible programs with low graduation rates begin offering short-term certificates so “students would have at least some credential even if they dropped out,” the study concludes.
Career and technical education is “the missing middle ground in American education and workforce preparation,” concludes a new Georgetown report, Five Ways That Pay Along the Way to the B.A. Some 29 million middle-class jobs — 21 percent of all jobs — are open to workers with employer-based training, industry-based certifications, apprenticeships, postsecondary certificates and associate’s degrees, according to the study, jointly released with Civic Enterprises. These jobs pay $35,000 to $75,000 annually; nearly 40 percent pay more than $50,000 a year.
The U.S. ranks second in the world in the share of workers with bachelor’s degrees, but only 16th in sub-baccalaureate credentials, Georgetown advises.
“Compared to other advanced economies, the United States underinvests in sub-baccalaureate, career and technical education,” said Anthony P. Carnevale, the Center’s Director and the report’s lead author.
In the postindustrial economy, career tech jobs are shifting from blue collar to white: Only one third of CTE jobs are blue collar, half are white collar and 15 percent are in health care. However, men still hold 18 out of the 29 million middle-class “middle” jobs.
For both men and women, the best jobs are in sub-baccalaureate STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and health care, where over 80 percent of jobs pay middle-class wages.
While four-year graduates earn more, on average, than middle-skill workers, certificates and associate degrees can be a step on the path to a bachelor’s degree in time, the report notes.
Career and technical education has lost federal funding in recent years, points out the Chronicle of Higher Education. The Obama administration cut millions from programs created by the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act. Georgetown urges the federal government to invest in career tech, setting up a “learning and earning exchange” to show students how to qualify for middle-class jobs. The report also urges integrating high school and postsecondary CTA with employer-based training.
“We need more pathways to postsecondary education,” Mr. Carnevale says. “Without that, we are creating a class-based society in America.”
. . . The exchange would provide students with information about specific training and education needed for jobs. In addition, educators could better tailor their programs to the job market, and employers would have a way to find new workers.
Employer training is the largest path to a middle-skill job, the report found. Postsecondary certificates — awarded to one million Americans a year — are now the second most common credential, after the bachelor’s degree. Some 800,000 earn associate degrees, but only half of those are in career fields such as nursing, business, and information technology. Registered apprenticeships reach 400,000 Americans; 90 percent are male.
Career-focused dual enrollment programs helped disadvantanged and underachieving students in California graduate from high school and succeed in college, concludes a three-year Community College Research Center study funded by the Irvine Foundation. Compared to similar students in the control group, career-tech students who took college classes in high school were more likely to graduate from high school, more likely to enroll in a four-year rather than a two-year college, less likely to be placed in a remedial college course and more likely to persist in college and earn more credits.
Almost 3,000 California students participated in eight dual enrollment programs that paired their high schools with nearby community colleges. Sixty percent were students of color, 40 percent came from non-English speaking homes and one third had parents with a high school education or less.
Earlier CCRC studies found career-technical dual enrollment is associated with improved college persistence, credit accumulation and grades. This study is one of the first to demonstrate that dual enrollment can work for students who might not otherwise enroll in college or succeed, if they do.
Among recommendations for policymakers, the researchers urged California to compensate both high schools and community colleges for dual students and waive college fees. In addition, the state should ensure that “dual” college credits are portable, so students don’t need to repeat coursework. Eligibility should not be limited to high achievers, the report recommends. “Following the standard of student eligibility for community colleges, the state should encourage broad access and prevent students from being disqualified by grades or test scores alone.”
• Continue to make dual enrollment available on both the high school and college campuses. Courses on the college campus provide a fuller and more authentic college experience; college opportunities must also be available at high school for students who lack transportation.
• Explore ways to ensure authenticity of the high school-based program format. Courses delivered at high school must have the same rigor and quality as college campus-based courses, and students must be held to the same standards of achievement as those in campus-based programs.
• Provide professional development to dual enrollment instructors. High school teachers may need greater assistance in creating a college-like atmosphere, and college instructors may need insights into scaffolding and other pedagogical strategies to support high school students.
California’s dual enrollment programs are struggling financially, evaluators noted. Because of funding cuts, some community colleges can’t provide seats in college courses for high school students. Two of the career-tech programs studied were discontinued in 2011 due to lack of funding.
A high-poverty, nearly all-minority district near the Texas-Mexico border, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo had a high dropout rate. Now dropouts and high-risk students are finishing high school while they start career training. All students can take rigorous “early college” courses and the college-going rate doubled in three years, according to a new report from Jobs for the Future.
Superintendent Daniel King came to PSJA from nearby Hidalgo, where he’d pioneered early college and career pathways for all students. “The dropout rate was horrendous,” King said. In partnership with South Texas College, the district created the College, Career, and Technology Academy to help former dropouts complete high school and “seamlessly transition into college courses” when ready. The dropout recovery campaign’s slogan: “You didn’t graduate from high school? Start college today!” Now students who lack the credits to graduate on time can go to CCTA the summer or fall after their four-year graduation rate, instead of returning to high school for a fifth year or dropping out.
PSJA then opened an early college high school with a STEM focus, again partnering with South Texas College. PSJA will become an Early College High School District, writes King on the JFF blog. Eventually, the college-going culture will start at the elementary level.
We have increased expectations for all students. Our goal is not just to hand out high school diplomas, but to see that our students have the skills they need to move onto college, obtain a college degree and have a prosperous life and career.
Through Early College coursework, students can graduate from high school with at least 12 college hours, a technical certificate, or even an Associate’s degree that prepares them for high-wage employment.
Virtually all PSJA students are Hispanic and 90 percent come from low-income families. Most parents are not well-educated.
Minnesota high schools can’t meet the rising demand for career-tech classes, reports the Star-Tribune. Just in the last three years, career-tech classes have been cut by more than half because of flat state and federal funding and a focus on core reading and math classes to meet No Child Left Behind standards.
“It gets rugged while running an auto-mechanic class with 60 kids,” said Daniel Smith, who oversees Minnesota’s high school career and technical education as the supervisor of Minnesota’s Center for Postsecondary Success.
In the 1970s, there were more than 70 career and technical centers for high school students in Minnesota. The well-equipped centers offered dozens of nationally certified programs, Smith said.
In the 1980s, high schools began to be seen as a place to prepare students for a liberal arts four-year degree, emphasizing reading, writing and arithmetic rather than skills for a job.
Twenty-six community colleges and surrounding school districts have created consortia to collaborate on career-tech classes.