The backlash against four-year colleges continues, and the strikes against it are getting harder and harder to argue with: it leaves graduates deep in debt with no practical skills, it’s impossible to get a job even with a degree, far too many students are enrolled in college who shouldn’t be…and the list goes on. Most recently, there have been a host of articles trumpeting the benefits of vocational schools – something that many of us thought had been left behind in the last century.
Joe Klein, writing in TIME today, visited an agricultural- and technical sciences program running at a school on the Navajo reservation in Kayenta, Arizona. It includes a veterinary clinic where studetns learn how to prepare animals for surgery, draw blood and give injections. The hope is to train these students for careers as veterinary aides, technicians and – in a few cases – veterinarians.
Not only has the program become the school’s best, but its students are succeeding academically far beyond what anyone expected. Almost all the students in the program passed Arizona’s state comprehensive test, given to 17-year-olds, while less than 40% of the non-vocational-education students passed.
Vocational schools of today have come along way from the “voc-ed” schools of forty years ago that Joel Klein, former chancellor of New York City schools, says taught little in the way of useful skills and also served as a “dumping ground” for minority students. Voc-ed has become CTE (career and technical education), and students are being trained for careers as firefighters, police officers, EMTs and massage therapists.
While a four-year degree is still loudly touted as the only route to the middle-class, Klein points out that in the U.S. there are fewer welders, glaziers and auto mechanics than before, and that these are the people who keep the country running. Salaries for trained auto mechanics can reach over $100,000 a year.
Penelope Trunk ran a blog post yesterday inspired by Klein’s article, pointing out that the academic success of the vocational students is a validation of “learning by doing”: “If you teach a kid by doing, the kid will learn fast and the lessons will feel right because they are the steps the kid needs to take to get where she is going. Ask the kids what they want to do, or leave them alone until they figure out what they want to do and the kid will find their vocation.”
Read Klein’s article here.
Image by imallergic