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Why California is investing over $200 million in vocational education

The U.S. Government defines vocational education as, “organized educational programs offering a sequence of courses which are directly related to the preparation of individuals in paid or unpaid employment in current or emerging occupations requiring other than a baccalaureate or advanced degree.”

These programs, offered by community colleges across the country, are by definition designed to help students find employment. Reports from the U.S. Department of Education indicate that people with vocational education have slightly higher rates of employment than those with academic credentials. According to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, there are over 30 million jobs that pay an average of $55,000 a year and do not require a bachelor’s degree. The healthcare industry alone is creating millions of high-paying jobs that don’t require students to study for four years.

Despite the benefits of vocational education, it has yet to appeal to American students on a broad scale. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 8 percent of undergraduates are enrolled in a vocational certificate program. Derrick Roberson, 17, tells PBS, “All throughout high school, they made it sound like going to college was our only option.” Today, Roberson is training to be an electrician.

In many regions, vocational programs have even declined in popularity. For instance, in 2000, 31 percent of community college students in California took vocational courses. Today, only 28 percent of students take these courses.

Experts believe that students hesitate to enter vocational training programs in part because of fears that industries like manufacturing will replace workers with robots. Business consultant Sam Geil told PBS, “It doesn’t help when industry is moving out and laying people off.”

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