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The Dire Need for Vocational Classes in High Schools

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There are many people with degrees who are not working in their field, drowning in student loans, and trying to survive. Are we in the age where a college education is becoming somewhat obsolete? I find people taking vocational/trade courses because they know that we will always need a plumber, mechanic, barber/hair dresser, electrician, carpenter, and so many more. There has not been a vocational course in high school in California since probably the late 1980s or early 1990s when high schools began to focus more on college track.

States like California initially shifted away from vocational education in high schools in order to prepare students to enter the state’s public universities,” Forbes reported. Another reason vocational education has declined in California high schools over the last several decades, according to the Los Angeles Times, “is that a combination of overcrowding and budget cuts forced schools to convert shop rooms into classrooms” (High School Vocational Education On The Upswing, Coaxing Students Away From Traditional Colleges).

Now, California and most likely, other states in the country are oversaturated with college educated people in minimum wage employment, waiting to advance at a company, which probably will never happen. If there were more people with trade skills, then there would most likely be more entrepreneurship and jobs to boost the economy in America. Currently, there are at least 43 jobs that do not require college education, that pay very well – especially in technology.

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There must be a reform in education that brings back vocational classes for people who are not going to college. Historically, many people have benefitted from these courses in high school and then became employed right after graduating, allowing them to ultimately advance within their field. Vocational training in school would bring back jobs the US because people will have the skills to build cars, computers, or whatever the current demand is.

Right now, people are losing important skills listening to a teachers lecture about history or algebra, which will not be used in their professional career, unless go into fields specifically requiting them. This article from the Huffington Post in 2013 regarding the state of Texas mentions, “The non-college prep track would be used to target students at risk of dropping out, according to the Paisano, the student newspaper at University of Texas San Antonio.” Having vocational courses could prevent drop outs and motivate students to look forward to life after high school. It will give them a sense of purpose and tools for survival.

NBC Bay Area wrote about this in 2010. “Indeed, California should acknowledge that it is quite possible for students to enjoy productive lives and successful careers without college, as several well-known state residents have proven… Why shouldn’t California high schools offer career prep coursework for aspiring entrepreneurs like [Steve] Jobs, actors like [Hilary] Swank, chefs like [Wolfgang] Puck and models like [Gisele] Bundchen? Or how about instruction in other fields and industries that do not necessarily require a college diploma such as automotive services, computers and information technology, home building, hotel and restaurant management, and sports and entertainment? The 100,000 or so youngsters who drop out of California high schools year by year represent unrealized potential. Many, if not most, could be encouraged to stay in school and to earn a diploma if they had the option of taking classes that prepared them not for college, but for a vocation.”

Not only has California been losing students, which leads to more school closures, but they have been losing teachers because it is becoming harder to replace those who can teach college prep courses. If the education system re-implemented vocational courses, there could be an increase in demand for vocational teachers because the ones who used to teach are retiring or have retired. More importantly, there will have to be a way around the requirements of teaching credentials to teach these classes because it is about certification and experience in these fields. If someone has certification and years of experience as a plumber, mechanic, etc, that should be enough for someone to become a teacher without taking the unnecessary tests and going through the bureaucracy of teaching certification programs. Vocational training in high school needs to be re-emphasized because not everyone’s path leads to college.

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Joy Elan

Joy Elan

Joy Elan is an award winning author and spoken word artist from Oakland and Berkeley, CA. She received her BA degree in African American Studies at UC Berkeley and her MA degree in Education at Stanford University. Her books are available on (poetry, non-fiction, and fiction genres). For more information, go to