The consequences of cutting funding from vocational schools

Yesterday I wrote about unemployment for those with college degrees.  But finding employment is even harder for those without a college degree and it may become more difficult.

One in five students in the U.S. doesn’t finish high school in four years, according to a the New York Times article, “Tough Calculus as Technical Schools Face Deep Cuts.” Writer Motoko Rich used one student as an example who almost became part of the statistic until he was introduced to a program at a vocational college that showed him school could offer practical information for the world after high school. He ended up receiving a scholarship at a community college, which he hopes will eventually lead to a bachelor’s degree and then on to opening his own business. But federal funding for vocational training is being cut for students like him as President Obama continues to push for higher academic standards and college graduation rates.

As budgets get tighter the debate as to who deserves funding gets more complex. Some believe more graduates with a four-year college degree means a well-educated, higher paid and more successful workforce that will improve the economy. However, less than a third of all 25-to-29 year olds last year held earned a bachelor’s degree or higher.  Some believe offering more funding for vocational programs gives more opportunities to students who choose to learn a trade over a bachelor’s degree. Seventy-five percent of high school students will graduate in four or five years. However, 90 percent of students involved in a career-oriented course will graduate.

Students who attend career and technical schools learn the skills they need to prepare themselves for a job where they can earn a middle-class income, according to William C. Symonds, director of Pathways to Prosperity Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “That’s not to say that you’re going to be a hedge fund manager making millions a year, but you will prepare for jobs that will pay more than a living wage.”

As much as politicians want to have every child in America go to college, we need to offer other opportunities for students whose gifts and talents don’t fit the mold of traditional schooling.  Dr. Robert Sternberg, who coined the term “successful intelligence,” says that to do well in the world you need analytical, creative, and practical intelligence.  Students who are highly gifted in practical intelligence are often the ones who struggle more in school. I volunteer taught at the federal prison in Denver for two years working with Native American men in maximum security and men in the “camp” who would be parole-eligible within a year. What I learned from working with these men is that they were largely unseen in our educational systems.  They didn’t know what their gifts and talents were.  They were easy prey for drug and alcohol use and they often would end up dealing drugs.

In addition to providing skills and job opportunities, we may also be saving millions in people who stay law-abiding as well as gainfully employed. In 2006, $68,747,203,000 was spent on corrections. On average, each prisoner cost $22,650 annually in 2001, which breaks down to $62.05 per day. With the high price of prison costs per prisoner, we all stand to gain by helping students who struggle to find themselves explore and pursue meaningful options which can both fulfill and sustain them. If they take these steps during high school and after high school, we’ll lower the high school drop-out rate, lower the prison-going population, and provide more workers who can not only support themselves and their families, but also contribute to their community as opposed to drain it.


“Incarceration in the United States”

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