College Guide


June 24, 2010 4:26 PM College Alternatives

By Daniel Luzer

Something about America’s vocational programs doesn’t really work too well. Jamie Merisotis and Stan Jones argued just that in the May/June issue of the Monthly. Well they’re not the only ones. According to an article in The Economist, the United states appears to have a “misplaced disdain for vocational education”:

America has a unique disdain for vocational education. It has supported such training since 1917; money now comes from the Perkins Act…. However, many Americans hate the idea of schoolchildren setting out on career paths—such predetermination, they think, threatens the ethos of opportunity.
As wages have risen for those with college degrees, scepticism of [career and technical education] CTE has grown too. By 2005 only one-fifth of high-school students specialised in an industry, compared with one-third in 1982. The share of 17-year-olds aspiring to four-year college, meanwhile, reached 69% in 2003, double the level of 1981. But the fact remains that not every student will graduate from university. The Council of Economic Advisers projects faster-growing demand for those with a two-year technical-college degree, or specific training, than for those with a full university degree.

Maybe the solution is to integrate career and technical education with college preparatory education. It might ultimately result in the same classes, but at least the label might help. According to the article, programs in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania have created promising programs that feature both technical training and academic courses.

The “career academies” in Pennsylvania apparently caused students’ eventual earnings to increase some 11 percent. Why is America so hostile to apprenticeship programs anyway?

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


  • FGS on June 30, 2010 2:02 AM:

    One down side to technical or vocational education is that graduates are locked in to a highly specialized field. Say you spend two years and $12,000 to become a certified pharmacy technician You discover, after 3 years of busting tail nights, weekends and holidays for $14 an hour, that nobody treats you like the valued medical professional that the private community college advertised: the job really sucks and barely pays enough to make rent.

    What else can you do with that?

  • Bretton on July 01, 2010 2:13 AM:

    FGS, if that is your situation, I am sorry that the school falsely advertised the program. I am a strong believer in the value of technical training programs and have many friends who have completed them and gone on to good paying jobs and payed a fraction of that for the training. The major pitfall I currently see in technical training programs is the misleading advertising by many institutions regarding the job sector and marketability of the certifications their programs produce. Also another problem is the overwhelming cost of many of the advertised technical schools that make empty promises. Many good community colleges offer the same certification programs at affordable rates because they are not running their school for profits like the national tech schools advertised on television. I would like to see more transparency from vocational institutions regarding the number of graduates that found employment in their field after graduation and the median starting pay for those graduates. This would help potential students make more informed decisions regarding their future.

  • BAP on September 22, 2010 5:09 PM:

    Scam scam scam scam scam. Pharmacy technician school?! In most states all you have to do is pass the PTCB national certification exam and you are a certified technician. That means you buy a book, study and pay to take the exam. These schools are running a scam and should be criminally charged. On top of that depending on where you live, pharmacy techs make anywhere from $8.00 and up rarely making more than $15.00/hr.