As lawmakers and students grow weary of the rising cost of higher education, vocational training programs are attracting more attention and funding. But a new report find that these programs are totally out of step with the needs of today’s labor market. To provide a real alternative to higher education, states and schools offering vocational programs should align vocational education with market needs.
Vocational and technical education programs provide options for students looking to avoid student debt. These programs equip high school and post-secondary students with the skills and credentials they need to get jobs for tens of thousands of dollars less than the cost of a traditional 4-year college degree. However, most students pursue — and taxpayers fund — degrees that offer little access to jobs, let alone high-paying jobs.
The Foundation for Excellence in Education, a national education research organization, has partnered with Burning Glass Technologies, a labor market research firm to study vocational education in the United States. They found that in the 24 states they surveyed, the degrees students earn through vocational and technical education do not match labor markets.
In total, the study found that for 10 of the 15 most popular degrees, students earn more degrees than there are jobs available. In some cases, these credentials do not provide any job opportunities. “General career readiness” degrees, such as financial literacy and basic first aid, for example, account for 28% of degrees earned, but the study found zero market demand for them.
Even when students find jobs with low-demand qualifications, they are often poorly paid. According to study data and Bureau of Labor statistics, only four of the top nine bachelor’s degrees earned by K-12 students lead to jobs with median annual salaries of around $35,000 or more. In contrast, the median U.S. household Income in 2017 totaled $60,336, according to the US Census Bureau.
Worse still, taxpayers foot the bill for these programs. A recent oversight report found that over the past few years, the US Department of Education has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on vocational education programs, including hairdressing and beauty schools, acting and bartending classes, a refrigeration school and a Professional Golfers Career College. Last year, Congress OK channel an additional $1.2 billion into career and technical education over the next six years, and says increase this financing with hundreds of millions of dollars of their own resources.
Instead of funding degrees that result in few or no jobs, these resources could help students earn degrees that position them for available jobs with significant salaries. For example, the Foundation for Excellence in Education study found that employers are looking to fill tens of thousands of jobs with employees who have EEG/EKG/ECG certifications, CompTIA A+ Security+ certifications, and with Cisco Certified Network Associates – positions that come with median annual salaries between $50,132 and $82,296 per year.
If states and the nation are committed to making career and technical programs a viable path to gainful employment, they must do more than fund these programs, they must align the degrees they offer with market demands.
Finland’s vocational curriculum, for example, is shaped by such analysis. According to the National Center for Education and Economics, the Finnish National Board of Education determines the vocational education that will be offered throughout the country based on a regularly updated analysis of projected learning needs. national industry in 15 years.
This program has proven to be both popular and effective in helping Finnish students find employment. At 16, Finnish students choose to focus on college preparation or pursue vocational training. According to the Organization for Economic Development, Finland has one of the highest enrollment rates in upper secondary vocational education, with 71% of upper secondary students. registered in vocational education programs. And overall, Finnish vocational education graduates (aged 20-64) 73.4% employment rate several percentage points higher than the average employment rate of vocational education graduates in the European Union.
The United States could do the same. Industry needs vary from state to state, so states and schools could optimize career and technical education resources by verifying what degrees are in demand in the job market and then directing students and funding towards these degrees. These adjustments would benefit employers looking for skilled employees in high-demand fields, students looking for cost-effective pathways to employment, and schools whose increased graduate employment rates attract more students. potential students.
Vocational training programs offer tremendous educational opportunities for students, but with a few intentional tweaks, we can make them even more convenient.