Ready to Work -- College Degree or Not

In the great debate on what the focus of education should be, it all really comes down to this. There are multiple pathways to success -- be it college, community college, or trade school -- so providing feasible, sensible options is something all states should execute. In the end, it is all about receiving a personalized education that prepares students for the workforce.

A recent profile of a highly successful trade school program in Tennessee that focuses on students obtaining certificates (rather than a degree), at their own pace, adds an interesting perspective to the current conversation around college and career readiness. Should all high school students be college and career ready? Is there space in career and technical education for college, career and vocational education? Can college preparatory education be aligned with career education?

Sometimes the forums where these questions get debated can get quite heated, with adherents to strong ideological commitments to one route or the other. Regrettably, some of the tension pits complementary ideas against each other.

The Tennessee program cites comments from students who know exactly what career they want, who desire a direct route to the skills and credentials they need, and who may have little or no interest in the broader education that comes with an associates or bachelors degree. How great that there are young people so confident of their career choice, interests, and disinterests. And three cheers for the State of Tennessee for supporting this option!

For organizations like the National Academy Foundation and its partners, this option further supports the importance of college and career education in high school and multiple pathways to success. Without such an education, how would high school graduates be able to make an informed decision about whether a program like the one in Tennessee is right for them, or if college is the way to go?

Choosing a post-secondary option aligned with a possible career is difficult and a major decision. Making an uninformed decision can lead to early termination of the program and serious debt. This decision needs to be informed by a clear understanding of one's own interests and aptitudes; as well knowledge of the job growth and earnings prospects for a given field, the nature of the work, and the analysis of the quality of training a particular trade school can offer.

Career academies are excellent places for high school students to explore the questions associated with the factors involved in the post-secondary decision. If such an option is not available, then schools need to integrate career education with the new Common Core State Standards or the existing state standards to assure that students are not making important decisions absent adequate self and career knowledge.