California underfunds vocational ed


(photo credit: US NAVY)

California is underfunding career technical education at the college level, charges a new study.

“[CTE] is vital to the economic structure, especially in a state like California where there is so much space for jobs that don’t necessarily require an advanced degrees,” said public policy professor Nancy Shulock of California State University at Sacramento.

Five years after earning a vocational associate degree, the median worker earns  $66,600, according to the California EDGE Coalition. That compares to $38,500 for graduates with an academic associate degree.

California funds all programs using the same per-pupil formula, whether the college is providing a classroom to teach Psych 1 or a mechatronics lab to teach advanced manufacturing. That makes it hard to provide CTE.

“Career technical education has the highest earning potential and the highest completion rate hands down,” Van Ton-Quinlivan, vice chancellor of workforce and economic development for the state’s community colleges, told an Assembly subcommittee. Yet CTE’s percentage of community college funding keeps declining.  “You can’t train an emergency room technician without a simulated emergency room.”

Funding has been cut for career tech education at the high school level as well.

Gainful employment for all

Gainful employment regulations are baaaaaaaack. The Obama administration will try again to regulate career training programs — primarily at for-profit colleges — that leave students in debt they don’t earn enough to repay. 

The draft “includes standards for debt-to-earnings rates and other language that could generate significant debate,” reports the Washington Post. The Education Department estimates that 9 percent of career training programs could fail to meet the new standards.

The White House push is too narrow, argues Reihan Salam on Reuters.

The Department of Education plans to identify vocational programs that leave their average graduate paying a high share of their earnings in loan payments (8 percent or more of total earnings, 20 percent or more of discretionary earnings) as well as those with a high average loan default rate (of 30 percent or more). Programs that cross these red lines in two out of three years will lose the right to offer their students federal financial aid.

Curbing the abuses of this sector could do some good. But career training programs represent a small subset of the higher education universe. If we take a somewhat wider view, it seems pretty puzzling that, say, business or engineering majors at four-year colleges and universities aren’t being treated as enrollees in vocational programs.

Many recent college graduates are underemployed and unable to pay back student loans, Salam argues. Most thought their degree would lead to a good job.

If the regulation were applied to all of higher education, programs like a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University, a law degree from George Washington University Law School and a bachelor’s degree in social work from Virginia Commonwealth University, would all be penalized,” complains Steve Gunderson, president of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, the for-profits’ trade association.

Why not “protect consumers from the least effective post-secondary programs” in all branches of  higher education?, asks Salam. Whether it’s overpriced paralegal training at a career college or an overpriced bachelor’s in film studies from a private nonprofit college, the borrower is likely to default.

How to improve gainful employment regs

Gainful employment regulations aim to ensure that career programs don’t leave students jobless and in debt, writes the New America Foundation’s Ben Miller in Improving Gainful Employment. The Obama administration’s new proposal is  simpler and stronger than the one invalidated by a judge in 2012, he writes. But it still has loopholes. gainful employment

In addition to measuring students’ debt-to-earnings ratio, Miller suggests three performance tests. Students would have to pay down their loans, no more than a third of students could withdraw in a year and the average graduate would have to earn at least as much as a full-time minimum-wage worker.

Career programs that can’t meet these standards — or have graduates with too much debt compared to their incomes — would risk losing eligibility for federal student aid.

Career programs need to focus on all their students — dropouts as well as graduates — Miller argues.

Furthermore, it’s not enough for programs to show low student debt if students also have low earnings, he writes: “Students are also spending billions in federal grant aid and arguably an even more precious resource, their time. They should expect better than living in or near poverty after completing a postsecondary program.”

Community college students typically don’t borrow — or don’t borrow very much — to pursue a vocational credential. But some don’t earn much either. Community colleges also have high dropout rates.

Gainful employment rules will hit high-cost for-profit colleges the hardest, but they also apply to nonprofit colleges that provide job training.

Six years of high school (with job training)?

President Obama’s visit to Brooklyn’s P-Tech spotlighted the idea of combining high school, community college and job training, reports the New York Times. After six years at P-Tech, graduates are “first in line” for jobs at IBM, which helped create the school. Some have earned an associate degree.

Is P-Tech the wave of the future? asks the Times‘ Room for Debate blog.

P-Tech ties school directly to an interesting job, writes Amanda Ripley, author of The Smartest Kids in the World.

Very few U.S. students attend “high-quality vocational programs tightly aligned with industry needs,” she writes.

In Switzerland, Norway and Denmark, vocational students spend half to three-quarters of their schooling in work placements.

That kind of vivid experience helps kids see into the future; they can connect the dots between what they are doing in school and how interesting their lives can be.

.  . America abandoned vocational high schools for good reason, decades ago: too many were second-rate warehouses for minority and low-income kids. But now that all decent jobs require higher-order skills, there’s an opportunity to get this right. American employers want higher-order skills, and American teenagers want more interesting work. The sooner they get together, the better.

Aiming at a moving target like the job market is dangerously short-sighted,” warns Zachary Hamed, a computer science student at Harvard.

IBM’s Stan Litow calls for P-Tech-like options for students on the Shanker Blog.

“Young people who enter the workforce with only a high school diploma are expected to earn no more than $15 per hour, and many will earn less,” he writes. Yet only 25 percent of high school graduates who enroll in community college complete a degree in six years.

IBM analyzed a community college freshman class. “Nearly 100 percent of community college freshmen who required two remedial courses—with one of them being math—failed to complete even one postsecondary semester,” Litow writes. A majority of these students dropped out of college within two months.

College for who?

“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.”

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.

CC funding shrinks, for-profits grow

community college funding

With state funding often failing to keep up with enrollment growth, community colleges have struggled in the past decade, concludes a U.S. Treasury report, The Economics of Higher Education. Meanwhile, for-profit college enrollment has soared.

Community colleges depend on state funding, notes the Huffington Report. State funding has fallen behind enrollment gains, caught up, then lagged from 1999 to 2009, according to the report.

In 2009, community colleges received approximately $6,450 per FTE (full-time equivalent) student, only slightly higher than the $6,210 in 1999,

According to the report, the funding decline for public colleges and universities bottomed out in 2005, then slightly increased before dropping again in 2008.

Because of the budget squeeze, community colleges are pushed to either raise tuition or or to limit class size, and often choose the latter, leading to a correlating spike in for-profit college enrollment. According to the report, community colleges are “more likely to serve low-income and first-generation student populations than four-year schools, and these students now constitute the bulk of the student population at for-profit schools.”

Both community colleges and for-profit colleges primarily serve low-income and first-generation students, the report found. When public colleges put students on wait lists, the for-profits expand quickly to meet the demand. While completion rates are low for community college students, graduation rates are high for students in for-profit vocational programs of two years or less. And there are no wait lists.

Pathway to technology degrees, jobs

Students are competing for a shot at a six-year high school in Brooklyn that offers vocational training and college classes, reports the New York Times.

By 2017, the first wave of students of P-Tech — Pathways in Technology Early College High School — is expected to emerge with associate’s degrees in applied science in computer information systems or electromechanical engineering technology, following a course of studies developed in consultation with I.B.M.

“I mean, in 10th grade, doing college work?” said Monesia McKnight, 15, as she sat in an introduction to computer systems course taught by a college professor. “How great is that?”

New York City plans to open several more schools on the P-Tech model, and other states are following suit.

“When we view high-quality C.T.E. programs, we see how engaged those students are and what clear aspirations they have for their future,” said John B. King Jr., the state education commissioner. “Unfortunately, that’s not always present in some of our struggling schools.”

In its second year, P-Tech houses ninth and 1oth graders at Paul Robeson High School, which is being phased out because of poor performance. Some 88 percent of P-Tech students qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch. Half tested below proficiency in eighth grade, but they’re already passing state Regents exams and taking college courses.

Students attend from 8:35 a.m. to 4:06 p.m., in 10-period days that intersperse traditional classes like math and English with technology and business-centric courses like “workplace learning,” which teaches networking, critical thinking and presentation skills. Second-year students are offered physics and global studies as well as the business courses and college-level courses in speech or logic and problem solving — or both. There is also a six-week summer academy for geometry.

Students who straight to the workforce will be prepared for “entry-level technology jobs paying around $40,000 a year, like software specialists who answer questions from I.B.M.’s business customers or “deskside support” workers who answer calls from PC users,” reports the Times. Students aren’t guaranteed a job at IBM, but they should have skills required by many companies as well as the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree in two years.

Each student also is paired with an IBM mentor and visits the company’s offices and labs. The principal also has an IBM mentor. The company helped train the school’s teachers and funds a full-time liaison to work with college faculty, who also helped develop the curriculum.

Swiss choose apprenticeships over college

University education is free in Switzerland, but most students choose vocational trainingTime reports.

Take Jonathan Bove. This spring, after he completed his three-year business training at an insurance company, the 19-year-old was hired by a telecommunications firm; his job as a customer care representative offers a starting salary of $52,000 a year, a generous annual bonus, and a four-week paid vacation – no small potatoes for the teenager who is still living at home and has no plans to move out. “The idea of university never appealed to me,” he says. “The vocational training is more hands-on and the path to a good job is shorter.”

After completing nine years of required schooling, two-thirds of 15 and 16 year olds choose Vocational Education and Training (VET), which combines three years of part-time classroom instruction with training at a company. The youth unemployment rate in Switzerland is less than 3 percent.

VET apprentices generate more revenues than they cost in salaries and instruction, so most companies profit from VET participation, even if they train more apprentices than they need. On average, VET graduates start at $50,000 a year.

Most young Americans won’t earn a college degree, says Nancy Hoffman of Jobs for the Future in a Nation interview with Dana Goldstein. A Swiss-style apprenticeship system would motivate young people and qualify them for good jobs, she argues.

Volkswagon is starting a European-style apprenticeship program in Tennessee, but for high school graduates. . . . You probably have to start with more internships and apprenticeships at the community college level than in high school, because most people in this country just don’t believe that 16-year-olds can be productive workers—though there is plenty of evidence they certainly can be.

Goldstein asks: Should we worry if the vocational track really is the track for working-class kids?

America’s system — College for all but failure for most — provides less economic mobility than the apprenticeship model, Hoffman argues. “The really strong countries have pathways from vocational education straight through to technical colleges,” she adds. In Switzerland, 42 percent of the highest-scoring students enter the vocational system. “If you want to be an engineer, work in IT or any of these high-tech jobs, you’re going to be much more likely to get a job after real work experience.”