Why an Honors Student Wants to Skip College and Go to Trade School

"Raelee Nicholson earns A’s in her honors classes at a public high school south of Pittsburgh and scored in the 88th percentile on her college boards. But instead of going to college, Ms. Nicholson hopes to attend a two-year technical program that will qualify her to work as a diesel mechanic. Her guidance counselor, two teachers and several other adults tell her she’s making a mistake," The Wall Street Journal reports. 

"'My dentist told me to (work on cars) as a hobby, but she kept telling me with my potential I should really go to college,' said Ms. Nicholson, a junior in at Charleroi Area High School in western Pennsylvania.

The friction around the best path forward after high school is popping up around the country as anxious students and families try to figure out how to pay for four years of college. At the same time, business groups and state governments make the case for a free or much cheaper vocational education.

The conversation is being fueled by questions about the declining value of a college degree as well as the rising cost of tuition and student debt. Low unemployment and a strong job market are exacerbating an already growing skills gap, raising prospects for tradespeople like welders who are in high demand.

Still, the decision to forgo a four-year degree runs counter to 30 years of conventional wisdom.

'Parents come from a generation where everyone was pushed to go to college and the tech schools were for the bad kids,' said Dawn LeBlanc, principal of the North Montco Technical Career Center in Lansdale, Penn.

In 2009, the last year for which data is available, 19% of high-school students were concentrating in vocational subjects, down from 24% in 1990.

Even as more students enroll in college, '40% to 50% of kids never get a college certificate or degree,' said Tony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. And among those who do graduate, about one-third end up in jobs that don’t require a four-year degree.

This has prompted a rethink about the value of colleges and is fueling a separation between the winners and losers in higher education.

These forces are leading to a course correction now rippling through U.S. high schools, which are beginning to re-emphasize vocational education, rebranded as career and technical education. Last year, 49 states enacted 241 policies to support it, according to the Association for Career and Technical Education, an advocacy group.

Pennsylvania is among the states trying to increase the number of students attending career and technical high schools."

NASFAA's "Headlines" section highlights media coverage of financial aid to help members stay up to date with the latest news. Inclusion in Today's News does not imply endorsement of the material or guarantee the accuracy of information presented.


Publication Date: 3/6/2018

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