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Vocational education: a dead end?

Students who take the vocational track are treated as second-class citizens in the United States. Community colleges offer a wide variety of associate of science degrees in vocational subjects, and students entering these programs work diligently to receive their degrees. If these same students decide to go on and get a bachelor's degree, however, they are in for a rude awakening. When the students apply for college entry, they are effectively told that they must start over as freshmen. At most, a few courses are accepted for credit, and the student has gotten essentially nothing from the associate degree program.

Apprentice programs result in a similar dead end. Companies select the best of their employees for these programs. After six years or so of classroom and on-the-job training, the students graduate. At this point, none of their background is applicable toward a four-year college degree. Graduates may have good jobs, but they have effectively hit a dead end.

In Chicago, there has been interest in a "2 + 2 + 2" path for those considering vocational education. The first two is a focused third and fourth year of high school which would qualify graduates to enter the City Colleges of Chicago Associate Degree for Manufacturing Technology program. The assumption was that the third two would be at a four-year university such as IIT.

After years of saying "it can't be done," some of us started questioning the assumptions that led us to that conclusion. Why is it required that students take the educational programs in a particular order? It is generally accepted that the first two years of a bachelor's degree program are spent on theory and general education. As an alternative, I'd like to suggest that vocational education be accepted as the first two years of university education, and that the last two years be organized to provide the background and theoretical studies required to qualify for a bachelor's degree.

IIT is proposing establishment of a bachelor's of Manufacturing Technology (BMT) degree for highly qualified students. This program would be set up to allow them to receive a BMT degree with two years of full-time study after completing either an associate degree in vocational subjects or an apprenticeship based on on-the-job and classroom education. The BMT degree also could be earned on a half-time basis over four years so that students with jobs and families could complete the degree requirements while supporting a family or accepting other personal commitments.

The junior and senior courses would be different from anything presently offered--21 classes specifically developed to build on what the students already know and to develop their communications, computer, technical, and reasoning skills. This writer is convinced the graduates of the BMT would be better educated and qualified to work for small- and medium-sized companies than other university graduates.

The BMT degree would provide an educational path for the best of those receiving vocational degrees either through community colleges or apprentice programs. This is a path that, as far as we can tell, presently does not exist in the United States. IIT is urgently seeking support to develop the BMT.

As a nation, we cannot afford to limit the educational potential of vocational workers. These workers are the key to the competitive success of the US, and yet we typically ignore them. The BMT program would provide an outlet for these students and an opportunity for improving their futures. We strongly and urgently suggest that the US act to provide educational opportunities for the most successful of those involved in vocational education. Why should vocational education be a dead end?
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Title Annotation:Speaking Out; extending educational opportunities to vocational students
Author:McKee, Keith E.
Publication:Tooling & Production
Article Type:Column
Date:Dec 1, 1992
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