National student loan debt has reached $1 trillion and is expected to increase. As the cost of college has risen, so has the average time spent by students at educational institutions. Many college students no longer graduate within the standard four-year timeframe, and the six-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time undergraduates is lower than 60 percent, which means forty percent of college students are increasing their debt loads without gaining a degree.
Additionally, skilled trades are one of the hardest occupation categories to fill for employers in the United States, as recent data suggest there are over 800,000 open jobs in the trade, transportation, and utilities sectors nationwide. U.S. employment projections indicate a majority of the new jobs that will be created over the next 10 years will likely not require the skills that a traditional four-year education provides.
This is in part due to high schools and other secondary education facilities not offering adequate academic programs for current students to explore other career interests, such as programs focused on career and technical education (CTE).
Missouri does have an established CTE system, as outlined by the Missouri Department of Education. Missouri’s CTE education system is made up of over 500 local education agencies, including 437 high school districts. In the 2014–15 school year, over 250,000 high school students and adults participated in career education training programs.
Increasing access to CTE programs is necessary to build tomorrow’s workforce, and it could help mitigate the high, growing costs of post-secondary education that current students and graduates face today.
High schools, especially those that have an associated community college and/or career center, should focus on shifting more students toward CTE programs at an earlier age. High schools should also implement dual-enrollment programs, allowing students to earn college credit at an earlier age and at a lower cost.
Established by Missouri’s Career Clusters Initiative, each CTE class refers to one of the 16 “career clusters.” A career cluster is a collection of jobs or industries that are correlated by a set of skills. Each cluster also has “pathways,” which refer to courses and/or training that aids as a preparation tool for any given career. Career clusters relate to agriculture and food, business management, technology, and engineering.
In Park Hill, Missouri, the Mineral Area College (MAC) Career and Technical Dual Credit Program allows for high school students to take up to 36 credit hours, at no cost, in conjunction with their high school program. Programs include automotive technology, construction technology, electric trades, and welding technology, as well as other degree programs in health care and other skilled trades.
At a community college, graduating high school seniors that have successfully completed courses at MAC will be able to transfer those credits to their post-secondary educational institutions. Since students can earn up to 36 credits, or about three semesters of college coursework, many students could be halfway through an Associates of Applied Science degree.
At MAC, an associate’s degree in automotive technology would require about 66–72 credit hours to complete. A student that chooses to participate in a dual-credit program during his or her time in high school would be able to complete this college degree in half the time normally required, compared to those who start the program after high school is over.
In 2015, Missouri established the Career and Technical Education Advisory Council (CTEAC). The council is tasked with developing strategic plans for career and technical education and collaborates with public and private entities to improve technical education. Pending legislation would direct CTEAC to establish minimum requirements for career and technical education certificates that could be earned by high school students. CTEAC should draft additional policies that focus on college credit programs, such as dual enrollment.
Point1: The future economy will depend on skilled-trade careers, which are not emphasized enough in the current U.S. education system.
Point 2: With over $1 trillion in student loan debt, legislators and government officials cannot afford to continue to promote the traditional education model, which encourages all students to pursue a four-year college degree. Traditional college degrees are not the only valid educational opportunities available for graduating high school students, and for many, skilled labor positions provide better-paying jobs than those found in other industries.
Point 3: Local high schools should partner with community colleges and career centers to provide to current high school students opportunities to earn college credits, which could be earned in addition to a student’s high school diploma.
Point 4: States should mandate public high schools offer dual-enrollment programs in skilled-trade programs, and high schools should emphasize the economic advantages of skilled trades as much as possible.
1. Richard Vedder and Matthew Denhart, Ten Principles of Higher Education Reform, The Heartland Institute, 2011: https://heartland.org/sites/all/modules/custom/heartland_migration/files/pdfs/29518.pdf
2. “What is CTE?” Association for Career and Technical Education, 2014: https://www.acteonline.org/cte/#.Vw1Z5PkrKM9
3. “Institutional Retention and Graduation Rates for Undergraduate Students,” National Center for Education Statistics, May 2015: http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cva.asp
4. Lindsey Stroud, “Missouri’s Career and Technical Advisory Council,” Research & Commentary, The Heartland Institute, March 17, 2016: https://heartland.org/policy-documents/research-commentary-missouris-career-and-technical-education-advisory-council
5. “Career Education,” Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education: https://dese.mo.gov/college-career-readiness/career-education