Vocational High: Preparing Students for Life without a College Degree

Many people believe the purpose of a high school education is to prepare students for college.  The end goal for many American high school students is admission to a two-year or four-year college, though many might not know what they want to study.  Paradoxically, the cost of two-year and four-year degrees has increased to the point that many students are not able to afford a college degree. 

Many school districts are responding to this issue by providing students with opportunities to learn a trade while earning a high school diploma, thus allowing them to enter the workforce somewhat, if not fully, trained upon graduation.  These vocational programs serve a growing need in our high schools and I hope to see the trend continue in the future.

A Job after Graduation

At Midlothian High School (MHS) in Midlothian, TX, students can study cosmetology, automotive technology, or automotive collision repair. Vocational students receive industry-specific training during school hours in order to gain entry-level employment in one of these fields upon graduation.  MHS collaborates with a neighboring school district, Waxahachie ISD, to allow students from both schools to participate in vocational training in order to earn their certification.  Approximately 15-20 students travel to Waxahachie High School, about 15 minutes away from MHS, daily and are awarded high school credits for these hours, on top of credits earned towards their individual certifications.

College or Career

While these programs can potentially benefit every student who takes advantage of them, I believe vocational training works best for the students who know they will not continue onto college after graduation.  Whether due to economic hardship, family pressure, or personal preference, some students will not go to college.  Vocational programs allow non-college bound students more opportunity to become productive adults without having to spend a lot of extra time and money on school.  Having these certification classes during high school hours allows students to begin earning a living upon graduating, as they eliminate the years of certification classes traditionally taken after high school.

One MHS student, who graduated with a certification in cosmetology in the spring of 2012, confessed to me that she’s not sure what she would be doing with her life at this moment if she had not taken those classes in high school.  She knew college was not the place for her but she was not sure how she would earn a living.  The vocational program changed her outcome.  With her cosmetology certification in hand, she is renting a space in a local salon and earning a living.  Vocational programs better prepare students for life after high school by giving them skills they can use to earn a living.

Vocational Training Gets Results

I have yet to find a person, in the education field or out, who speaks negatively about the vocational programs at Midlothian High School.  Everyone with whom I have spoken has applauded our school for finding different ways to help students become successful, productive adults.  For many of my students, vocational programs have been the difference between barely getting by and succeeding.  I would enjoy hearing about different vocational programs across the country and would welcome hearing other points of view and experiences different from my own.

Want to hear more about making a smart college decision? Watch our video, What is the Value of Education, featuring Lindsey Childress.

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Lindsey Childress has a BS in Sociology from Texas A&M University and a master's degree in Counseling from Tarleton State University.  She taught 8th grade math and Algebra 1 for four years and just began her fourth year as a guidance counselor at Frank Seale Middle School in Midlothian, TX.

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