The Role of Vocational Schools

The New York Times has an interesting overview of Sinclair Community College and its retraining efforts resulting from a devastated automotive industry. This article provides an interesting view regarding the role of vocational and/or training schools.

It seems that discussions about higher education in the United States have always included the debate contrasting academic missions of enhancing student intellectual capacity and preparing students for their future careers. Advocates of student intellectualism have emphasized that students should learn to create and/or appreciate ideas regardless of their practicality, whereas advocates of student careerism have emphasized that students should learn career relevant knowledge and skills. Given the increasing loss of the U.S. manufacturing production capacity, are some vocational schools training people into future economic dislocation?    

Karabell (1998) argued that the typical American undergraduate is a first generation college student who is often not ready to meet intellectual pursuits, and tends to prefer vocationally oriented coursework. Colleges tend to neglect such student’s educational needs. One problem is that academia has largely maintained their emphasis on scholarly research, and has led American colleges to de-emphasize undergraduate education in general, and vocational education in particular. As a result, non traditional students tend to graduate college without a substantial level of academic or high level vocational preparation. Karabell thus proclaimed that the majority of American colleges should emphasize undergraduate teaching, and focus on enhancing students level of career development.

Hispanics have had a long history and tradition of participation in vocational education; however, the current social and economic environment requires a long-term examination of vocational training as an educational avenue, particularly in manufacturing. Hispanics and other minorities need to be directed to pursue educational endeavors that will provide long-term productivity.

Source:  Karabell, Z. (1998). The Struggle to Define American Higher Education. New York: Basic Books.