The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Making Vocational Programs a Reasonable Alternative to College Education

on September 9, 2017

Today’s post is based on an article that appeared in a source named “Education Dive”, entitled “Why Massachusetts’ CTE  Approach works–and what other states could learn”  by Judy Bass. Although I am not familiar enough with that source to insure that it’s information is not exaggerated, I found the concepts described worthy of consideration.  Even if the Massachusetts programs are not as profound and polished as they appear, they are worthy of our consideration for the future and other places.

Back in the early 20thth century, vocational high schools were founded for students not considered capable of preparing themselves for college or high level employment.  The programs those schools offered were chosen as good training for low paying, minimal-skills jobs. At the same time, the vocational programs at regular high schools were for students who were aiming for medium level business jobs, such as secretaries or accountants.

But today, several states are beginning to agree with the idea that all high schools should prepare students who are not college-bound for worthwhile alternatives. Among the states that have begun to move in that direction, Massachusetts is a national leader, offering schools with quality programs that will enable students to reach their career goals. Already, 48,00 students are enrolled in programs at vocational or regular high schools, while 3,200 more are on waiting lists.

What has made such programs so attractive is the promise that students will graduate with the skills that will lead them—after some time as novices–into highly respected careers, such as engineering, robotics, telecommunications, fiber optics, criminal justice, bio-technology and computer technology.

The up-grading of vocational programs, now named “CTE”, for career and technical education, was initiated through Massachusetts General Laws. Chapter 74 of those laws established CTE programs in vocational schools and traditional high schools. In addition, guidelines were written for the 44 CTE programs that described precisely what skills and knowledge students were expected to master in each program.  The guidelines also specified that certain courses were to include training in biology, physics, drafting, or mathematics, because they are essential parts of many careers.

In addition to career training, it was decided that technical school students must take 50% of their classes in academic subjects that emphasize communication skills, such as writing and reading in math and science. Their teachers are also expected to focus on project-based activities, technology and language-based literacy, and to relate other academics to those areas as much as possible.

According to the article I read, people at the highest levels of government and education are united behind CTE, and working hard to insure that sufficient resources are allocated to all programs.  James P. Quaglia, Superintendent-Director of one of the most respected vocational schools in the state, and also president of the Massachusetts Association of Vocational Administrators (MAVA), declaired that ,“We’re doing our best to answer the call [of industry and business] and provide quality workers. Our educational system in Massachusetts is ranked number one and 50,000 students in vocational education are part of it.”

Remarkably, I have no suggestions for changes or additions to the programs in Massachusetts. As described, they seem well grounded in science and reality, popular with the public, and supported by state officials. My only concern is whether or not the Federal government will be able to maintain the financial support needed. But if the programs produce the high quality workers described, in sufficient numbers, it seems certain that private companies all over the country will be willing and able to pick up the slack.

2 responses to “Making Vocational Programs a Reasonable Alternative to College Education

  1. Doug Garnett says:

    Thanks, Joanne. The discussion around these programs is critically important.

    Where I struggle is not with the need for them – that’s clear. Rather, I am disappointed that they are a separated track from “college bound”. There’s an arrogance among advocates that disappoints me.

    In the 1920’s, when AT&T was recruiting the scientists who discovered/created things like the transistor, integrated circuits, communication satellites and more, they intentionally looked for scientists who had grown up on farms. Why? Because they knew how to work with their hands and that was a tremendous advantage for these brainiac PHD scientists.

    Schools miss a fundamental mode of thinking that is critical for higher level work when the college track is too intellectual. All students benefit from wood shop, cooking, automotive, hand crafts like sewing, and more.

    Fortunately, many are beginning to recognize the error of “all students need to be college bound”. Unfortunately, they’re returning to the college vs vocational dichotomy instead of providing all students (including the college bound) necessary education that comes from the far harder conceptual problems encountered when making physical things.

    I highly recommend Matthew Crawford’s “Shop Class as Soul Craft” as good reading about the higher level thinking involved in building.


  2. Melissa says:

    I write articles for a trade school lead generation company and, while I’ve always believed that trade school should be a viable alternative, I’ve NEVER been so pro-trade school in all my life. What annoys me is that students aren’t really given a true and deep look at their options. Traditional college is heavily promoted, because of course it makes the high school look better. But, then maybe, depending on the student, trade school is sort of…kind of…brought up as an option. Reality is, the trades make so much more sense that getting a four year degree, and then a masters, and THEN maybe having to work retail because the competition for the open positions are so fierce.

    I’m a mom of college aged kids, and not all of them (especially my two sons) are traditional college material. I’ve been trying to get them to look into the trades, especially because there are so many out there and you’d think they’d be sure to find one that would be interesting to them. I think my ‘encouragement’ is working with one son, but the other…it’s going to take more convincing. And, my oldest daughter ended up leaving the university and going to cosmetology school. She’s graduating in about ten days! I’m so proud. Plus…I’m going to save money on my cut, color, and highlights 🙂 She’s fab!


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