Does Every High School Student Need to Go to College?

Inside the new movement to end one-size-fits-all high school diplomas.
Feb 15, 2013· 2 MIN READ
Suzi Parker is a regular contributor to TakePart. Her work also appears in The Christian Science Monitor and Reuters.

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory believes that college isn’t for everyone—but every student should have a career.

This week the North Carolina House of Representatives voted 110-1 in favor of a vocational education bill that places seals on high school diplomas telling students and employers they’re “career ready,” “college ready” or both.

McCrory, a Republican who became the state’s governor in January, campaigned heavily last year on education reform. In a statement, he said:

“This legislation will help fulfill one of our major campaign platforms to provide multiple paths to success in our schools and also expand opportunity by ensuring our students are career and college ready through vocational and professional development.”

For decades, the plan has been for high schools to prepare students for college since it’s been considered a path to middle class. But it’s become clear that many students may not be the college type, even after they’ve accumulated thousands of dollars in student loans.

In the book Success Without College: Why Your Child May Not Have to Go to College Right Now – and May Not Have to Go At All, Linda Lee writes that most college students haven’t even considered what they will do after they get a diploma.

“There are an awful lot of people sitting numbly in college classrooms who are in fact better suited to working with their hands, to being out on their own, setting their own workday, solving problems, actually helping people rather than reading textbooks and writing papers,” she adds.

Politicians are realizing the same thing. McCrory isn’t alone in pushing vocational legislation.

In Texas a bill has been filed that would give students more flexibility to choose classes that would best suit their future plans. Those plans might not include college readiness. Republican state Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock told a local paper:

“We know not all students are going to go on to college. But the current rules don’t give students much flexibility in determining what classes they want to take.”

A similar Senate bill has been endorsed by nearly 20 industry trade groups.

Aycock’s bill would also give students endorsements in several areas such as arts and humanities, business and industry, public services and STEM classes. Critics believe that such legislation would “dumb-down” classroom education.

Indiana legislators, too, are exploring vocational education because their Republican Governor Mike Pence has made it a priority in his educational platform. One bill would create the Indiana Works Councils to explore job openings in areas of Indiana. Then, the councils would draft vocational and technical education curricula for high schools in order for students to fill jobs.

Shelli Curlin Hehehan, an assistant education professor at the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, Ark., has studied the benefits of vocational education. She says the positives outweigh any negatives.

“I think technical education is extremely important, and my research indicated that it has long-lasting positive results,” she told TakePart. “I found it interesting that almost one-half of the interviewees are currently working in and are satisfied with the career fields that they had chosen at the secondary level. Also, the majority of students did go on to get bachelor’s degrees.”

President Obama stressed vocational education in his State of the Union address this week. He said, “Let’s also make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job. Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so that they’re ready for a job.”

More on Education Reform:

• If High School Seniors Can’t Read Their Diplomas, Should They Be Allowed to Graduate?

• 'The Road Out’ of Poverty Begins With Great Teachers

• Op-Ed: Seriously, a Bar Exam for Teachers? This Is Not the Answer