No other country in the industrialized world treats vocational education as shabbily as the U.S. It’s a huge mistake (“Perks for Plumbers: Hawaiian Vacations, Craft Beer and ‘a Lot of Zen,’ “The Wall Street Journal, May 24).
Consider the market for plumbers. Job openings reached a record 6.6 million in March. The annual median pay for plumbers was nearly $53,000 a year in 2017, but far higher wages are routine, with six figures not uncommon. Vocational education in high school and in community college, combined with apprenticeships, prepare young people for a gratifying career without the onerous student debt that four-year degrees create.
Yet the U.S. persists in the fiction that college is for everyone. It is a delusion. The appalling failure of so many students to complete their education for a bachelor’s degree should be a rude reminder, but it isn’t. As a result, we have a generation of young people whom we have shortchanged.
The usual argument about the premium attached to possession of a bachelor’s degree compared with a high school diploma does not take into account the kind of major studied. I seriously question whether a B.A. in gender studies, say, is as valuable in the market as a certificate in, say, plumbing. Let’s not forget that a degree almost always comes with student debt. Nevertheless, I doubt anything will change. We are obsessed with college for all.
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