Five Vocational School Myths: Busted!
Much of the talk about education today revolves around college readiness, but shouldn't there also be a focus on career readiness? In 1973, 28 percent of the workforce needed some college education; in 2007, that figure rose to 59 percent, and by 2018, the figure is expected to increase to 62 percent, according to a study by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University. The study projects that by 2018, the U.S. will need 22 million new post-secondary degrees and will fall short by about 3 million. We will also need approximately 4.7 million workers with post-secondary certificates, which can be obtained through vocational schools.
The National Center for Educational Statistics released a report in March 2011 that projects that the number of students earning associate degrees between the 2007-08 academic year and the 2019-20 academic year will increase by 30 percent, while those earning bachelor's degrees will only increase by 23 percent. Clearly vocational education could be at the forefront of education, going forward.
Vocational education myths, busted
With all of the studies, surveys and statistical information to the contrary, why then do the following five myths persist about vocational schools and vocational education? Apparently, a little myth-busting is in order.
1. Only people who can't get into college go to vocational schools.
Many students don't do well in a typical college environment because they don't see the relevance of what they're being taught to the real world. Vocational education programs mostly focus on specific skills for specific occupations. Everything a student learns from how to behave and function in the workplace to specific occupational skills--is relevant to applying for and getting a job, and being successful in a career that interests them.
2. You can't get a degree from vocational schools.
Vocational schools may offer two-year associate degrees and some even offer four-year bachelor's degrees in addition to the certificates and diplomas often associated with vocational education.
3. Only people with poor academic records go to vocational schools.
Many high schools graduates want or need to start working as soon as possible to support themselves and their families. They need to quickly learn a marketable skill that they can use to land a well-paying job. Other students who may already have degrees turn to vocational education to increase their current skills in order to receive a promotion or to learn the latest technological advances in their fields. Many also want to focus on a specialty area of their career.
4. You can't get a job that pays well with a vocational education.
The Department of Labor lists 50 occupations available through vocational training or an associate degree program that had 2009 median annual salaries ranging from $40,000 to $77,000. And those are only median salaries; some people may earn much more.
5. Employers don't want to see vocational education listed on your resume.
A study at Cornell University indicates that "job productivity derives directly from social abilities (such as good work habits and people skills) and cognitive skills that are specific to the job or the occupation." These are the two most important traits to employers in small- and medium-size businesses, which are providing most of the new jobs in the American economy. These same employers also indicated that relative wage rates are tied directly to occupational skills rather than any other educational factors.
The truth: Vocational education provides career-readiness
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says, "We can learn from [other countries] about how to build rigorous educational and work-experience programs with strong links to high-wage, high-demand jobs." Many education reform advocates in the U.S. treat vocational education as old news rather than the potential source of cutting-edge career preparation that it is. So let's start talking about how vocational schools provide the career-readiness that our economy needs rather than rehashing these five "old news" myths.