Technical certificates, degrees pay off in Texas

Texans who earn a technical certificate or associate degree often earn more than four-year graduates in their first year in the workforce, concludes a new study. Some workers with certificates in health-care fields start at more than $70,000 – $30,000 more than the median for graduates with bachelor’s degrees.

Low-cost, ‘high-value’ certificates rise in popularity

Vocational certificates, which promise a low-cost fast track to a better job, are rising in popularity. The average worker whose education ended with a certificate earns 20 percent more than a worker with only a high school diploma. Some certificate-holders — especially men in technical fields — earn more than graduates with associate or bachelor’s degrees.

Funding cuts hit career tech ed

Career technical education — vocational ed to us old folks — provides an alternative path to success for students who lack the motivation or academic ability to earn a bachelor’s degree.  Yet the Obama administration has proposed a 20 percent reduction in its fiscal 2012 budget for career technical education, even as it seeks to increase overall education funding by 11 percent, reports the New York Times.

President Obama has instead made it a priority to raise overall academic standards and college graduation rates, and aims to shrink the small amount of federal spending for vocational training in public high schools and community colleges. 

European countries offer a vocational education for many students. (Nearly half of Finnish students enter vocational programs in 10th grade.)  But the U.S. prefers to pretend that all students will complete a four-year degree.

Last year, fewer than a third  of all 25- to 29-year-olds in the United States had earned a bachelor’s degree or higher.

About 75 percent of students who start public high school earn a diploma within four or five years, according to federal data. More than 90 percent of career-tech students graduate, claims the Office of Vocational and Adult Education.

In an analysis of testing data from Massachusetts, Alison L. Fraser, author of the Pioneer Institute study of 27 regional vocational and technical education high schools in the state, found that vocational students vastly improved their passing rates on English and math standardized tests between 2001 and 2007, a period in which the schools focused on integrating academic instruction into technical classes. In fact, by 2007, the vocational students were actually passing at higher rates than students in the rest of the state.

 There are decent jobs for people with technical skills and vocational certification: 27 percent of certificate holders earn more than the average worker with a bachelor’s degree.  But the good jobs require reading, writing, math and problem-solving skills that many students don’t master in allegedly college-prep classes.

This is the first in a Times series on vocational education.  I’m pleased to see attention focused on the issue.


At an innovation conference, Community College Dean has a “stupiphany” — the sudden realization that you were an idiot for not knowing something before. The more classes a remedial student must take, the more likely the student will give up. Each class is an exit point.

Another stupiphany:  Remedial students are much more likely to succeed when basic skills are taught along with vocational skills. Yet California’s community college system eliminated many “contextualized” classes that help students earn an occupational certificate in favor of traditional remedial classes geared toward associate degrees.

Help wanted: ‘Middle-skill’ workers

Spotlight features my long-awaited (at least by me) freelance story for McClatchy News and the Hechinger Report: With “middle-skill” credentials — an occupational associate degree or certificate  — it’s possible to earn a middle-class living without heavy student debt. But most students aim for a bachelor’s degree. The A and B+ students usually have the academic skills and motivation to complete a four-year degree; weaker students usually end up with nothing. Many are “majoring in debt,” as Georgetown Professor Anthony Carnevale puts it.

Also on Spotlight: Nearly everybody’s going to college these days, but many graduates aren’t ready for the workforce, writes Julian Alssid of Workforce Strategy Center.

Earn a credential, earn more money

On Community College Spotlight:  A vocational certificate or associate degree boosts students’ earnings by 31.5 percent, a Colorado study finds.

Also: A California community college learns how to reach Hispanics — and it’s not by translating ads  into Spanish.

Help wanted: BA not required

Jobseekers shouldn’t need a bachelor’s degree, writes Charles Murray in the New York Times.

Here’s a suggested battle cry, to be repeated in every speech on the subject: “It’s what you can do that should count when you apply for a job, not where you learned to do it.”

Murray wants to see tests of vocational skills replace years in college.

The residential college leading to a bachelor’s degree at the end of four years works fine for the children of parents who have plenty of money. It works fine for top students from all backgrounds who are drawn toward academics. But most 18-year-olds are not from families with plenty of money, not top students, and not drawn toward academics. They want to learn how to get a satisfying job that also pays well. That almost always means education beyond high school, but it need not mean four years on a campus, nor cost a small fortune. It need not mean getting a bachelor’s degree.

Students should be encouraged to seek a liberal education for its own sake, not as a job qualification, he writes.

Of course, Murray thinks that most people aren’t smart enough to earn a meaningful bachelor’s degree. I think it’s more a question of preparation than brainpower.  But it’s certainly true that years of schooling — lower or higher — are a very imperfect indicator of competence. Years ago, I worked with a smart, literate woman who turned out to be a high school drop-out. (She listed her high school on her resume, but never claimed to have earned a diploma.) She read books.