College prep, job training — or both?

While most high school graduates go on to college, “nearly 40 percent of those who go to four-year colleges and some 70 percent of students at community college will never earn their degree,” comments John Tulenko on PBS NewsHour. Should more teens train for the workforce instead of prepping for college?

Marissa Galloway, Norton learned cabinet making at Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical School. Photo: Mike George

Marissa Galloway learned cabinet making at Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical School. Photo: Mike George

“It’s the shame of our nation, when you look at, a student comes out of high school, not knowing what they want to do, goes to college, drops out,” says David Wheeler, principal of Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical High School, south of Boston. “Now they’re in debt, without a job, and not knowing what they want to do.”

In addition to academic subjects, students at Massachusetts’ regional vo-tech schools learn skilled trades.

They do as well academically as students in traditional high schools. (Wheeler’s students outscored the state average.)

They don’t have to “skip college,” as Tulenko puts it. Statewide, 60 percent of regional vo-tech students enroll in college, while others go directly to the workforce.

Gov. Charlie Baker has proposed expanding the state’s vo-tech schools.

Training first, then a bachelor’s

Training-based pathways to a bachelor’s degree would enable students to learn, earn and then — when and if they’re ready — learn and earn some more, writes Mary Alice McCarthy in Flipping the Paradigm.

Some colleges now offer “upside-down degrees.” Students complete two years of technical training before taking general education courses.

Others are developing  “applied” bachelor’s degrees that build on students’ technical expertise.

More than 80 percent of community college students want a bachelor’s degree, but only 25 percent transfer to a four-year institution. The transfer pathway is “full of potholes,” says Brian Mitchell, chair of Edvance Foundation.

Many paths lead upward

 From Fordham’s EduWatch 2016: 6 Themes For Education

Job skills can be first step to college

Students in the Jewish Homes’s geriatric career development program take summer classes taught by registered nurses at Hostos Community College.
New York City students in the Jewish Homes’s geriatric career development program take summer classes at Hostos Community College. Photo: Meredith Kolodner

Training to care for the elderly is helping low-income New York City students qualify for jobs — and go to college, reports Meredith Kolodner in the Washington Monthly. Jewish Homes, which needs aides and nurses, offers help finishing high school and applying to college and paid internships.

Mercedez Vargas was struggling to complete her high school diploma at a last-chance night school, when she learned about the Jewish Homes’ program. “As I started interacting with the elderly, I actually found it was something I would like,” said Vargas, who is 20. “Now I actually love it.”

Participants come after school for four hours twice a week to get academic, job and college prep, as well as a free meal. Juniors go on college visits and rising seniors take a 10-week summer course aimed at passing the state nursing assistant exam.

While their high schools have an average graduation rate of 61 percent, nearly 100 percent of students in the program graduate.

The Jewish Home hires program graduates as nursing assistants for $15 an hour. Registered nurses, who need a college degree, average more than $36 an hour. Eighty percent of participants since 2009 have earned a degree or are pursuing one, writes Koldner. But it’s a challenge.

These students often come from high schools where they got good grades for simply showing up and turning in their work on time, said program director Toni Sexton.

. . . “We’ve coined the phrase ‘gentle dream crushing and gentle dream redirection,’ because our students going pre-med is a waste of their financial aid,” said Sexton. “Not because they’re not bright — we have lots of bright, very intelligent young people who are incredibly underprepared, and at this point it’s nearly impossible for them catch up.”

Vargas works evenings and weekends as a home health care aide, while taking full-time community college courses to prepare for the nursing assistant exam. Once she passes that hurdle, her mentors are encourging her to go for a nursing degree.

Job training, BA — or a third way

Our higher-ed system, which puts general courses at the front end, doesn’t work for many students, writes Mary Alice McCarthy, a senior policy analyst at New America Foundation, in Rethinking the Bachelor’s Degree.

She has two nephews who weren’t academically motivated.

Allen completed a political science degree in six expensive years. He’s unemployed and living with his parents.

Jeffrey apprenticed at a restaurant while taking community college classes and works as a chef. But the pay is low and he needs a bachelor’s degree to move up to a more lucrative restaurant management job. His credits and experience don’t count toward that four-year degree.

In Washington state, Evergreen State College offers an “upside-down bachelor’s degree, with the technical education coming first, followed by two years of broader, general education,” she writes.

Other community colleges in Washington offer a bachelor’s of applied science, designed to build on a two-year technical degree, she writes. For example, the BAS in manufacturing operations at Clover Park Technical College adds business and management skills to a two-year machinery repair program.

McCarthy worries about “the notion that everyone must earn a bachelor’s degree to be successful.” Some schools are offering a bachelor’s of applied science in dental hygiene, while many dental hygienists qualify with a one-year certificate.

Nearly two-thirds of job postings for executive assistants require a bachelor’s degree, even though only a fifth of people in the job now are college graduates, reports Burning Glass Technologies.

Obama plans college aid for prisoners

Some prison inmates will receive federal college aid, despite a 1994 law that cut off Pell Grants to prisoners. The Education Department says Pell for prisoners is legal under a waiver provision for experimental programs.

Before 1994, prisoners could use Pell Grants to cover tuitions, books and other education-related expenses. Online learning should make it easier and cheaper to provide coursework to inmates.

President Barack Obama tours a cell block at the Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Okla., on July 16. PHOTO: SAUL LOEB/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

President Obama tours a federal prison in Oklahoma on July 16. Photo: Saul Loeb, Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Under the Obama administration’s plan, grants of up to $5,775 a year would go directly to colleges and universities that provide courses to prisoners.

Of 700,000 prisoners released each year, more than 40 percent will be back behind bars within three years, said Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who announced the program at a Maryland prison on Friday.

“For every dollar invested in prison education programs, this saves taxpayers on average $5,” said Lois Davis, who authored a RAND study.  Inmates who take college classes are 16 percent less likely to return to prison, she estimated.

Congress provided nearly $300 million last year to fund job training and re-entry programs for prisoners, said Republican Lamar Alexander, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, in a statement.

Pell aid might be a “worthwhile idea for some prisoners,” but the administration has no authority to ignore the law, Alexander said. “Congress can address changes to Pell grants as part of the Senate education committee’s work to reauthorize the Higher Education Act this fall.”

Remediation + job training = success

Jason Broad and Yalchen Abdulkhaliq work on making a scissors clamp in the machine shop during a class at Shoreline Community College. Machining requires students to have a solid understanding of algebra, calculus and trigonometry. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)
Jason Broad and Yalchen Abdulkhaliq make a scissors clamp in the machine shop at Shoreline Community College, where they’re also learning algebra. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

When community college students have to pass remedial math before taking college-level courses, most give up, writes Katherine Long in the Seattle TimesTeaching basic skills with job training has raised success rates at Washington state community colleges.

The grinding sound of metal on metal filtered through the walls of Chris Lindberg’s math class at Shoreline Community College, but his students had no trouble tuning out the noise.

“We’ve got a 10-inch-diameter grinding wheel, and it’s turning at 1,910 revolutions per minute,” Lindberg said, jotting the numbers on a whiteboard. “What is the surface speed?”

Students will use their new algebra skills in the shop next door, “setting up complex lathes and milling machines, each the size of a small SUV,” writes Long.

Shelley Campbell measures a part she made for a final exam in her I-BEST machine shop class at Shoreline Community College. (Mike Siegel/Seattle Times/TNS)

Shelley Campbell measures a part she made in her I-BEST machine shop class at Shoreline Community College. (Mike Siegel/Seattle Times/TNS)

I-BEST (Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training) students “are nine times as likely to earn a workforce credential as students who follow the traditional path of taking remedial classes first,” she reports.

Troy Briones, who struggled with math in high school, served in the Army artillery. Now 25, he’s training to be a machinist. “Math is everything in machining,” he said. “The best part of the program is it’s very hands-on. As soon as the lecture ends, you go straight into the lab and try it … the instructors are with you every step of the way.”

Shelley Campbell, 53, is retraining after being laid off by Boeing.

Students can earn a basic manufacturing certificate in one quarter, preparing them for an entry-level job, or go longer to master higher-level skills. Machinists start at $15 to $35 per hour.

In Building paths to the middle class, the American Enterprise Institute looks at four high-quality career tech programs in high school and community college.

Obama: You don’t need a degree

After years of encouraging young Americans to earn college degrees, President Obama is telling them they just need technical skills, not a degree. The $100 million TechHire initiative will try to persuade employers to hire technical workers with alternative credentials.

“It turns out it doesn’t matter where you learned code, it just matters how good you are at writing code,” Obama said in a speech to the National League of Cities conference. “If you can do the job, you should get the job.”

Dev Bootcamp promises to turn novices into web developers in 19 intensive weeks

Dev Bootcamp promises to turn novices into web developers in 19 intensive weeks

High-tech employers see “non-traditional training as a viable alternative,” writes Issie Lapowsky on Wired. “Training startups like Codecademy and General Assembly, as well as online course companies like Coursera, have been pushing” the idea for years.

TechHire will try to develop “standards for alternative education” and “a guide for employers on how to recruit tech workers from less traditional places,” reports Lapowsky. A company called Knack will “make a standard tech aptitude test free to employers and training organizations.”

The president says employers are losing money by leaving technical jobs unfilled. So, don’t they have an incentive to figure out how to test technical aptitude?

The $100 million would fund programs that help women, minorities, veterans and people with disabilities qualify for tech jobs. More than 300 employers have agreed to consider hiring graduates of these programs.

‘Better job’ is #1 for college students

Source: The Cooperative Institutional Research Program at the Higher Education Research Institute at U.C.L.A., 2014 Freshman Survey. Responses refer to incoming college freshmen.

Why do Americans go to college? asks a UCLA survey of first-year students. First and foremost, they want better jobs, observes Catherine Rampell in the Washington Post.

The survey has been given every year since 1971. Students today are more likely to rate every objective as “very important,” Rampell writes. “Entitled millennials just expect colleges to do everything for them!”

But the biggest jumps, in percentage-point terms, were for the share saying they went to college to “make more money” (44.5 percent in 1971, versus 72.8 percent in 2014; an increase of 28.3 percentage points that was mostly gained in the earlier years of the survey) . . .

Women are more likely than men to cite intellectual curiosity, notes Rampell.

New tests compete with ‘unpassable’ GED

With GED pass rates down by 85 percent, states are turning to alternative tests, reports Anya Kamenetz on NPR.

— In 2012, a total of 401,388 people passed the GED test.

— In 2013, people rushed to take the old test in its final year, creating a bump: A total of 540,535 people passed.

— How many earned a GED credential in 2014? In the general population: 58,524.

The new GED is aligned to Common Core standards, which measure college readiness. It’s much harder — and more expensive — and must be taken on a computer.

“Teachers are telling us that the new test is virtually impossible for students to pass,” says David Spring, who with his wife, Elizabeth Hanson, runs the website Restore GED Fairness.

The High School Equivalency Test, or HiSET, produced by ETS and the University of Iowa is now coming into use in 12 states, reports Kamenetz. McGraw-Hill’s TASC has been approved in nine states.

However, in 34 states, passing the GED is the only route to a high school equivalency credential.

Previously, GED aspirants could pass part of the test, then retake the sections they’d failed. Now they have to pass all of it at the same time or start over from scratch.

People may be scared off by the harder test, said Diane Renaud, who runs the St. Vincent and Sarah Fisher Center in Detroit. “The vast majority of the people taking the GED are not likely to be college-bound,” she told the Detroit Free Press. “However, to get a job, where you’re able to earn a minimum livable wage, you have to have a GED.”

CT Turner, spokesman for the GED Testing Service, said there are few jobs for people with just a GED or high school diploma. Available jobs require additional job training or education, said Turner.