Connected to the future

Senior Gerardo Lopez talks to Education Secretary Arne Duncan at San Francisco's Burton High School.

Senior Gerardo Lopez talks to Education Secretary Arne Duncan at San Francisco’s Burton High School.

Most students like Gerardo Lopez — Latinos and blacks from low-income and working-class families — enroll in community college, take a few remedial courses and drop out. They’ve been told they should go to college, but nobody’s told them what level of academic skills are necessary to pass college-level courses.

Many think any major will qualify them for a good job. They don’t know how the system works.

“Gerardo Lopez is preparing to turn his dreams into reality,” I write on Open Standard.

“Hands-on” learning opportunities drew Lopez, a Honduran immigrant, to the engineering academy at Phillip and Sala Burton Academic High School in San Francisco. “As a kid, I loved to make little cars, bringing parts together to make something come alive,” he says.

But he didn’t know engineering was a possible career. His father is a hotel janitor; his mother is a housewife.

Now a senior, he spends two days a week as an “extern” at an architectural firm. Lopez hopes to major in mechanical engineering – or perhaps architecture – at a University of California campus or Stanford. If he hadn’t signed up for the engineering academy, “I wouldn’t have known what I wanted to do with my life,” he said.

Burton offers “career academies” in engineering, health sciences and information technology, all high-demand fields. Students take college-prep and career-prep courses together, visit workplaces, do job shadows and compete for summer internships.

“Employers say they can’t find the skilled workers they need,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan told business and education leaders at Burton High last week. But CEOs aren’t talking to superintendents. “There’s a total disconnect.

Thirty-five percent of Burton High graduates enroll in four-year universities, said Principal Bill Kappenhagen. Another 43 percent go to community college and 22 percent go straight to the workforce.  The six-year graduation rate is high – 90 percent – for the four-year students, he said. But only 10 percent of those who go to City College of San Francisco graduate in six years.

What’s going wrong for the community college contingent? Some get bogged down in remedial courses or overwhelmed by work and job responsibilities. I’d guess many more would succeed if they aimed for a technical certificate or two-year vocational degree rather than taking general education courses.

“We’ve done a poor job of informing young people and their parents about the great jobs out there,” said Duncan. “It doesn’t have to be a college degree. There are six- or eight-week training programs that lead to great opportunities.”

Tech credentials pay for low-income students

Vocational certificates and associate degrees in health, transportation, construction, manufacturing and security lead to relatively high pay for disadvantaged students and low-scoring high-schoolers in Florida, concludes a new Calder working paper.

Low achievement in high school accounts for much of disadvantaged students’ problems in postsecondary programs and in the workforce, the study found.

Earnings for disadvantaged kids are hampered by low completion rates in postsecondary programs, poor college performance, and their selection of low-earning fields. . . . Many disadvantaged (and other) students choose general humanities programs at the AA (and even the Bachelor’s or BA) level with low completion rates and low compensation afterwards.

Even those with weak academic records can do well if they pursue a technical certificate or degree program, researchers found. Those with vocational certificates earn 30 percent more than high school-only workers and those with associate degrees in technical fields earn 35 to 40 percent more.

Promoting high-potential career pathways and offering high-quality apprenticeships could help disadvantaged students move up.

Colorado OKs 4-year degrees at 2-year colleges

Colorado community colleges will offer bachelor of applied science degrees in career and technical fields.Gov. John Hickenlooper signed legislation that makes Colorado the 22nd state to expand community colleges’ role.

Applied science includes fields such as dental hygiene, culinary arts, respiratory therapy and water quality management.

Community colleges will not be allowed to offer bachelor’s degrees that compete with state universities in their area.

Higher ed pays — for technical grads

Higher Education Pays: But a Lot More for Some Graduates Than for Others concludes a Lumina-funded report by Dr. Mark Schneider, the president of College Measures. “What you study matters more than where you study,” says Schneider, a vice president at the American Institutes for Research (AIR).  Learning technical and occupational skills pays off, even for graduates of low-prestige colleges and universities. A music, photography or creative writing graduate from a prestige university will struggle.

Schneider analyzed first-year earnings of graduates of two-year and four-year colleges in Arkansas, Colorado, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

Some short-term credentials, including occupational associate’s degrees and certificates, are worth as much or more than bachelor’s degrees, the study found. For example, Texans with technical associate’s degrees averaged more than $11,000 more than four-year graduates in their first year in the workforce.

Certificates that require one or two years of study may raise earnings as much as an associate degree, especially a transfer-oriented degree.

In Texas, certificate holders earned almost $15,000 more on average than graduates with academic associate’s degrees, but about $15,000 less than graduates with technical associate’s degrees.

Not surprisingly engineering degrees have the biggest payoff, followed by nursing and other health-related fields. What is a surprise is the weak demand for biology and chemistry graduates. “The S in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is oversold,” the report found.

Despite the clamoring for more students to focus on STEM, the labor market shows less demand for science skills. Employers are paying more, often far more, for graduates with degrees in technology, engineering and math. There is no evidence that Biology or Chemistry majors earn a premium wage, compared with engineers, computer/information science or math majors. The labor market returns for science are similar to those of the liberal arts, like English Language and Literature.

Women now make up a majority of biology graduates and about half of chemistry majors.

“Prospective students need sound information about where their educational choices are likely to lead” before they go into debt, the report concludes.

AAUW: Women need child care, STEM support

Affordable child care and information about high-paying technical careers would help more women earn a degree and qualify for middle-class jobs, concludes Women in Community Colleges: Access to Success, a new report by the American Association of University Women.

Some 57 percent of community college students are women, estimates the AAUW.  One in four are mothers, often with work and family responsibilities.

Community colleges present an attractive option for mothers of young children, in part because they offer flexible schedules and low tuition. Unfortunately, limited access to child care disrupts the educational path of many mothers. Although more mothers enroll at community colleges than at four-year institutions, fewer than half of all community colleges offer on-campus child care, and available slots do not typically meet student demand. Student parents consistently cite child care responsibilities as a chief reason for dropping out . . .

Community colleges offer a wide range of job training, but most women choose traditionally female occupations, the report observes. While nursing pays well, women who choose early childhood education or cosmetology programs will earn much less than they could in technical fields. Only a fraction of women train to be “engineering technicians, automotive service technicians and mechanics, carpenters, and electricians.” Community colleges should try to close the gender gap in STEM career preparation, the AAUW advises.

Technical certificates, degrees pay off in Texas

Texans who earn a vocational certificate often earn more than associate-degree graduates in their first year in the workforce, concludes Higher Education Pays: The Initial Earnings of Graduates of Texas Public Colleges and Universities Who Are Working in Texas. Some workers with certificates earn more than $70,000 – $30,000 more than the median for graduates with bachelor’s degrees, concludes the Lumina-funded study by College Measures, a joint venture of the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and the Matrix Knowledge Group.

The median starting pay for criminal justice/police science certificate holders is $48,192, double the compared with $24,298 for those with an academic associate’s degree. Some health-care certificates allowed graduates to earn $70,000. Other high-paying certificates included:  construction engineering technology/technician, electrician, pipefitting,  engineering, industrial technology, and instrumentation technician.

However, not all certificates lead to high-paying jobs. Recipients of two dozen certificate programs earned less than $13,000 in their first year on the job. Cosmetologists and  nursing/patient care assistants usually earned low wages.

Technical associate’s degrees pay well: The median starting salary is more than $50,000. By contrast, an academic associate degree lead to median earnings of $24,298,

First-year earnings for bachelor’s degree holders range from about $25,000 (biology) to about $47,000 (accounting): The average is $39,725.

Community college graduates’ first-year salaries vary from one college to another.

 Academic associate’s degrees range from about $10,000 (Ranger College) to more than $30,000 for graduates from the Trinity Campus of Tarrant County Junior College and from Central Texas Community College.

For graduates with technical degrees, the range is even greater, from about $20,000 for graduates of Clarendon College to more than $65,000 for graduates from seven community colleges: College of the Mainland Community College District, San Jacinto College South Campus, Tarrant County Junior College South Campus, Galveston College, El Centro College, Trinity Valley Community College and Weatherford College.

national study and analyses in Tennessee and Virginia have found similar results:  Technical certificates and associate degrees often pay better than non-technical bachelor’s degrees at the start of graduates’ careers.

Obama: Link high school, college, job training

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.

Business, political and education leaders are trying to link high schools, community colleges and employers, reports U.S. News.

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.

Students opt for vocational programs

More college students are choosing vocational programs, reports CNBC.

Schools offering a more career-oriented approach to higher education continue to enjoy double-digit growth, fueled by a sluggish economic recovery, accelerated stimulus spending and a more practical student mindset.

. . . Revenue at for-profit technical and trade schools jumped nearly 11 percent over the past 12 months, after posting more than 12 percent growth the year before, according to the Sageworks financial analysis firm. Growth averaged between 6-7 percent in 2007 and 2008.

“I’ve seen tremendous growth in the number of students enrolling in vocational or technical colleges and for-profit institutions that specialize in convenient, practical coursework,” says educational consultant Steven Roy Goodman. “The IT guy, the electrician, the people who maintain the 911 system or the electrical grid – they make more money because they have more value to society.”