Vocational education programs deserve funding

By Union Democrat staff August 31, 2010 04:04 am
 How many times have you heard the refrain, “How can I find a good mechanic around here?”
 Anyone who has lived in Tuolumne or Calaveas county for awhile knows that plenty of well-qualified mechanics are doing business in the Mother Lode, and are happy to tell anyone who asks about their favorite.
    But here’s great news: That list of excellent auto mechanics has just grown by at least a half-dozen.
    Six of Calaveras High School auto shop teacher Chris Sedler’s students just carried away top honors at a Laguna Seca Raceway competition sponsored by the Edelbrock carburetor company.
        Valley Springs seniors Luke Dolin and Michael Beristianos teamed up to win first place and a pair of $5,000 scholarships to Ohio Technical College. Junior Justin Rapetti of San Andreas and Sedler’s daughter, Kaylee, took second place and two $4,000 scholarships. Finally, seniors Bacle Taylor of Valley Springs and Brendan Raymundo took fifth and $1,500 scholarships.
    Would you trust these kids with your car? Heck, these student attend what Hot Rod magazine calls “Horsepower High.” Who wouldn’t?
    Want to coax a little more juice out of your Chevy or Ford? Let these star students under the hood.
    So, will all six of these star Calaveras High students go to four-year colleges?
 Well, they’re certainly bright enough to get in. And, just as certainly, they really don’t need to. They could go on to a technical school like Ohio Tech, or get jobs at existing garages and do just fine.
    Their success, and that of other vocational education students at Bret Harte, Sonora, Cassina and Summerville high schools, and at Columbia College, brings into question an assumption that dates back decades:
    That getting its graduates into four-year colleges is the yardstick by which high schools can be measured.
    In this day (and in this troubled economic environment), a better gauge may be how many graduates land jobs with a future and with wages adequate to support themselves or, even better, a young family.
    There is plenty of evidence that four-year schools aren’t the answer for everyone.
    •  Many high school students who do get into college need remedial English or math classes to get them up to starting level.
    •  About a third of college students never graduate.
    •  And for those who do earn a diploma, a well-paying job is hardly guaranteed.
    While a focused student with specific goals and a structured curriculum may find success, a generic liberal arts degree, at least for awhile, may lead to moving furniture or flipping burgers. And college may also cost the student — or more likely, his family — tens of thousands of dollars.
    Here in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties, students have a wide range of options and, judging from statistics, take advantage of them. All four public high schools, as well as alternative ed programs associated with them, offer an array of vocational classes.
    Auto shop, welding, cosmetology, business, drafting, sports medicine and computer science are among high school offerings. At Columbia College, the curriculum broadens to include forestry, fire science, auto collision repair, nursing, child care and education, EMS training, hospitality management, medical transcription and much more.
    At Sonora High, which could be representatiive of other schools in the area, students make a variety of choices:
    Of 228 members of the 2009 graduating class surveyed, 49 are at four-year schools, 133 are at community colleges, 14 are at technical schools, five are in the military, 33 hold full-time jobs and the remainder have part time jobs or are looking for work.
    In today’s economic and job market, vocational programs are becoming an increasingly important part of the educational picture.
    Like four-year colleges, they are not for everyone.
    But for high school and community college students who know what they want, voc-ed classes offer inexpensive, specific instruction aimed directly at career paths. Successful students can often find jobs immediately, quickly making a positive impact on the economy.
    In this era of cuts to education, legislators and school trustees should think long and hard before reducing funding for our proven vocational education programs. They’re a bargain we shouldn’t give up.