I also received my Inspection Trends magazine the other day. Inspection Trends is published by the American Welding Society for "Materials Inspection and Testing Personnel". The editor's column speaks to the issue of the political season that we're in and how the politicians when talking education are always talking of the need to get everyone to attend a four year university.
..... I believe the politicians' rhetoric gives our young people unrealistic expectations. Now I'm not saying that people can't rise above their beginnings. I firmly beleive in the American dream that anyone can be whatever they want to be through education and hard work. I'm saying it makes kids feel there is something wrong with them if they don't want to go to college; that it makes them ashamed to say, "I want to be a carpenter, electrician, cook, landscaper, welder, weld inspector (you fill in the blank)." And it makes parents not want to encourage their children to become a part of those professions.
And I received my AWS "This Week in Welding" e-mail. This one contained an article from Bloomberg Businessweek dealing with manufacturing and the shortage of qualified people. It had some pretty interesting statistics. The average annual salary for welders and Bachelor Degree holders is about the same at $47,900. The average for an Associate Degree is $36,300. Enrollment at four year colleges is up about 21% since 2005 vs 18% at two year schools. The article also mentioned Caterpillar and their need for qualified people in the same paragraph discussing a young guy going to school so he could leave his $55,000 per year job to make 100 large. This would lead one to believe Caterpillar would be one of those high paying jobs. However, from what I've read recently in the paper, new hires are going to be lucky to make $30,000.
Now, in an attempt to try and tie this all together, you can go to UWM and learn some real cool machining, metalsmithing or 3D printing, which looks to be the wave of manufacturing's future. I'm not sure what the job market for those graduates is but I'm guessing an education there would run you close to $100,000 by the time you include your room and board, tuition, textbooks, and the fact that most people take more than four years to complete a bachelor's degree. That's going to require a decent job to pay back the student loans. If not, welcome to the world of the starving artist. You could go to work for Caterpillar after investing a tidy sum at a technical school or community college and make less than the average graduate does. Or you could get into an apprenticeship program provided you wanted to work in the construction trades because they're about the last ones to offer those. The money's good when you're working, as are the fringes, but that's a tough nut to crack. You could also take a bunch of the college courses offered over the internet at no charge, get a whole lot smarter but not end up with a degree. That's changing, however. I'd guess that ten years from now if you want a college degree, there'll be an app for that on your phone.
After reading back the last paragraph, that probably didn't tie much of anything together so let's try this instead: Industry says they can't find enough qualified people but they don't/can't pay them a living wage.The politicians and the schools say everyone needs to go to a four year college but that's becoming way too costly for the average guy. And even if they could afford it, would they need it? Most jobs in Indiana don't really require a four year degree, certainly not those in manufacturing. Those require skills. Skills that are learned on the job or in a vocational school. Not the kind of education that lends itself to internet delivery. Basically then, it looks like we're stuck in the same place we've been for awhile now and no-one is offering a decent big picture solution to what education and business need to be doing. Maybe I should get to work on an educational manifesto so I'll have it ready to go after the upcoming election. I don't think it would be that difficult to come up with the solution. The problem would be trying to overcome the inertia and entrenched agendas in order to implement it.
Just off the cuff, here's a couple of ideas:
Every kid entering high school declares himself business, college prep, military or vocational. Like it used to be, sort of. Entrance exam required with mandatory remediation. If you don't have the math to be a machinist, you'll need to take a shop math course. And lets call it what it is. It doesn't have to be Tech Ed or CTE.
High school curriculum is set by collaboration with business, college, armed forces, trades. The end product users, if you will. Exit exams reflect the different curricula. No weighted classes. No reason for a kid to be penalized for taking a business or vocational class because it doesn't have weighted status. End product users need to give priority to hiring graduates and have a decent feedback loop. If you can't find the people, maybe it's because your not involved enough.
First year of higher education offered at the high school. No reason English 101, etc. can't be offered at a high school. If you stick for the fifth year you can also take a couple of college courses and a couple more high school courses - get a double major. In fact, maybe do like some of the technical schools. Offer free training any time you want to come back.
As soon as you finish your diploma requirements, leave high school or stick around for the college offerings. There is absolutely no reason to keep a kid in school for the full four years if he can get out earlier.
No driver's license without a high school diploma (with certain exceptions). You quit school, stay home. There needs to be incentives to stay in school and penalties for not.
Stop penalizing schools for suspending/expelling students. Make schools an inviting place. Don't allow a few knuckleheads to disrupt things for those that want to learn.
There you go. Arne Duncan's got nothing on me.