By Rich Figel
A week ago, I wrote about "Public Versus Private Colleges" and noted how I anticipated that many people would enroll in schools to bolster skills because of the weak economy. On March 13, the NY Times ran a lengthy article headlined, "The New Poor: In Hard Times, Lured Into Trade School and Debt." Then in today's Advertiser op-ed pages, there was an interesting piece about the need for vocational training in Hawaii's high schools. (Links at end of post.)
In my blog post I questioned whether the traditional four-year liberal arts college approach was adequately preparing graduates for jobs in the real world. I admitted I was skeptical of for-profit colleges and trade schools, but after visiting Heald and interviewing both administrators and graduates, came away with a positive impression of what they had to offer. In the comments section, I also mentioned how there used to be vocational high schools back in New Jersey when I was living there in the 1970s.
The NYT article focused on ITT Technical Institute, the Le Cordon Bleu culinary school, and online college programs like Phoenix University. It didn't refer to Heald or Remington, the two for-profit colleges that are best known in Hawaii. According to the Times, a huge chunk of the tuition payments are being made through federal loans and Pell grants for lower income people. What's alarming is many graduates are not finding decent jobs, which means the loans will never be repaid... and yes, the taxpayers ultimately get stuck with the debt.
However, in the NYT comments section, many readers pointed out that you could make the same statements about public colleges and elite private universities. All schools say the key to getting better paying jobs is education. But there are no guarantees that getting a degree from UH or Harvard, while racking up debt on college loans, will necessarily result in landing the job you hoped for. You still have to put in the work, and get experience somewhere.
Let me be clear about one thing: Heald is NOT an online diploma mill. Their instructors take great pride in working closely with students and providing hands-on training. What's distressing about the NYT comments were online college teachers who said they were told to pass everyone, or they would be fired. So, caveat emptor -- let the buyer beware. The same goes for massage and culinary schools that promise more than they can deliver. As one commenter wrote, you can learn more about cooking by asking to assist in a top restaurant kitchen for free, rather than pay $40,000 to take classes from a mediocre chef. Learn by doing, in other words.
Which brings me to the Advertiser op-ed piece by David S. Matsumoto, a retired Japan Airlines regional exec. He presents a good case for making vocational education a bigger part of Hawaii's high school curriculum. As my wife pointed out, in Japan you were expected to do long apprenticeships before you became a sushi master or swordmaker. In this country, people used to become apprentices too before hanging up their carpenter or plumber shingle... now it's Donald Trump who has turned apprenticeships into a reality TV show gimmick. Sigh.
What do you think? Is it time we go back to some of the old ways to better prepare young people for the jobs that are in demand today?
Today's relevant links:
NY Times article on trade schools (comments at bottom worth reading too).
Advertiser commentary on vocational training.
My prior blog post on public versus private colleges.
CareerChangers.tv link for show times and YouTube Channel videos.