Minnesota Wants More Vocational Students

Minnesota’s educational leaders are changing their minds about the push for high school students to get a 4-year degree.  Many are now reconsidering the vocational route and acknowledging that this change could positively influence the state’s workforce.  Alex Friedrich of MPR News says that in the past two years,  state’s officials have supported proposals that are intended to improve the bridge between vocational education and the workplace.

Alexandria Technical and Community College President Kevin Kopischke says that although vocational education has been a part of the high school system in Minnesota for years, it has begun to be watered down by funding cuts and the push for students to get a four-year college education.

The recent recession and high unemployment rate of college graduates, however, have helped spark a change in thinking over the importance of a four-year degree.

The leading voices have been the students and the business sector — students with their comments about crushing debt and job insecurity and industry with their complaints that they’re not able to fill the jobs that they currently have open, said Sen. Terri Bonoff, chair of the Higher Education Committee.

Also, state funding for colleges and universities has declined between 2002 and 2012. Workforce leaders would like to see apprenticeship programs, exposure in high school to technical trades, and career skills classes.  On the opposite side of the debate is Dane Smith, president of the St. Paul think tank Growth & Justice, who warns that society should not automatically relegate the poor and minority students to vocational schools.  He adds that no one should ever be overlooked for a four-year degree.

In Wilmington, North Carolina, legislators and educators are considering changing the educational pathway completely.  Molly Parker who writes for Star News Online, says that the General Assembly passed and Governor Pat McCrory has signed a bill that offers students three options for endorsed high school diplomas; college-bound, career-bound, or both, for the 2014-2015 school year.  An important factor is that many students and parents must be informed that vocational courses are offered in North Carolina schools.

One community college vocational supervisor, State Rep. Rick Catlin, said that they would do well to emulate the”vo-tech” programs in Germany.

“Their vocational pathway is very respectful and very professional and very successful,” he said.

Catlin noted that Germany’s high school graduation rate far exceeds that of North Carolina’s, while the country spends less per student than does the state.

He’s planning to take a local delegation to that country in the fall to learn more.

In Philadelphia, employers are asking to be a part of the vocational and technical classes that are open to secondary school students.  In some cases, says Kathy Boccella, writer for The Inquirer, they are even willing to pay for these programs.  The employers are looking to create training for students who could, eventually be employed for hard-to-fill jobs.