Why Vocational School?

It saddens me that parents, teachers and college counselors are pushing every type of student to attend college.

Certainly, college makes sense for those who plan to enter a math or science field, where demand and high-paying jobs are plentiful.

Yesterday, Forbes.com writer Kurt Badenhausen wrote a short but intriguing piece, “Most Lucrative College Majors.”

“The most lucrative college major today: computer engineering. Those with less than five years’ experience are making $60,500, while those with 10 to 20 years’ experience are banking $104,000 per year” Badenhausen writes.

What majors also made the top-five? They include economics, electrical engineering, computer science and mechanical engineering.

For students without an interest in these fields, educators should recommend vocational school—and shame on anybody who thinks of this avenue as unworthy. In fact, in our turbulent economy, becoming a tradesman offers a much more certain path to a solid living.

According to another Forbes.com article, elevator installers and repairers receive an average annual salary of $73,560, with an average hourly wage of $35.37. Transportation inspectors receive an average annual salary of $65,770, with an average hourly rate of $31.62.

I’m intrigued by a July 11, 2012 CNNMoney article, “Nine months in trade school. Job guaranteed.”

Journalist Parija Kavilanz writes, “As millions of young Americans struggle to land jobs, students in manufacturing trade schools are sitting in a sweet spot. They’re being hired even before they graduate.”

I can’t help but feel that in trying to do good, educators have helped widen a great divide between the jobs that graduates covet and what skills they need for respectable, great-paying jobs that they may not want but that are readily available.

In a Dec. 18, 2012 New York Times article, “After Recession, More Young Adults Are Living on Street,” reporter Susan Saluny supports my case:

“Across the country, tens of thousands of underemployed and jobless young people, many with college credits or work histories, are struggling to house themselves in the wake of the recession, which has left workers between the ages of 18 and 24 with the highest unemployment rate of all adults.”

I recognize another crucial issue: too few young adults know what field they want to pursue after high school, vocational or otherwise.

Educators need to do a much better job on inspiring life-long passion, rather than just providing students with a smorgasbord of knowledge. In fact, I know several fellow Brandeis history majors who returned to school in their late 20s to pursue pre-med.

I ask Patrick F. Bassett, President of the National Assertion of Schools, how educators can better guide students to a brighter future.

“If you want to transform the experience of college in students who are 18‑year‑olds, you would have a gap year of obligatory service, in my opinion—could be military, could be social service, could be Teach for America, could be anything,” Bassett says. “Because what happens is that the kids are way too immature to go to college. They don’t know really why they’re there. They think they’re there to party and that’s what they do. A year of real work in the real world resets the mechanism. Kids grow up, they’re a year older. They see what work is like, what the workplace demands of them, and a better idea of what they’re really good at and interested in.”

Educators have a lot to think about and while there aren’t any clear answers, continuing to embrace the college-for-all status quo is neither responsible nor advisable.



As a coach, history and journalism teacher at Brimmer and May, a wonderful independent school in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, I have the absolute best job in the world. I am thrilled to get up every morning to engage with interesting young people, and I'm equally fortunate to have such amazing colleagues and mentors. As the founder of Spin Education, I encourage you to check-in frequently and submit posts and lessons—all in an effort to better our practice as teachers.

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