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Decreased Funding for Vocational Schools: Raising Quality or Limiting Opportunity?

Vocational programs are a refuge for high school students who might not be interested in, or capable of, attending college. Though many otherwise mediocre students excel in vocational schools, a federal government move to cut state funding may put these programs in jeopardy.

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By Sarah Wright

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Federal Cuts for Public Vocational Education

Traditional academic subjects are fun for some students, and a boring chore for others. Many people can agree that some people just aren't intellectually well disposed to excel in school, but unfortunately, formal education is extremely important in most job fields, particularly in a competitive economy. For these students who don't excel in subjects like English and math, vocational school has long been an option that provides structure and training for future employment.

Vocational education, occasionally referred to as career and technical education (CTE), is available through both public and private, for-profit institutions. Public vocational schools are funded by the states in which they are located, but much of that state funding comes from federal grants. In President Obama's budget for 2012, funding for CTE dropped from $ 1,271.7 billion to $1,007.9 billion. This significant drop has worried some supporters of CTE.

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The Case For, and Against, Vocational Education

Supporters of CTE say that it is a vital component in our educational system. It provides an alternative path for students who might get discouraged by poor performance in traditional academic fields. According to a recent article in The New York Times, vocational education advocates feel that some U.S. citizens would never complete any type of formal education if CTE was not an option. CTE provides applicable career training for students who might otherwise drop out if forced to continue to struggle in literature and history classes.

Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan has a different point of view on vocational education. In a speech delivered on April 19, 2011, Duncan pointed out that education needs to be about more than simply getting a job. Students of all kinds need to be prepared to enter careers, he said, and CTE doesn't always provide its students with the skills and knowledge they need to advance into sustainable careers.

Is Balance the Answer?

The federal cuts to CTE funding will no doubt upset supporters of this type of education, and may set a precedent that could lead to a severe downturn in the availability of public vocational training in the U.S. The Department of Education extols the benefits of rigorous education, but that argument seems to ignore the fact that trying to force certain types of students into a role they aren't interested in is likely to backfire. Still, it's not an invalid point of view that more U.S. citizens should have the ability to hold a job and advance if they want to.

The answer to the problem may be to see vocational education as an educational option that can exist alongside core academic subjects, rather than in opposition to them. And while the for-profit education sector has recently come under fire for producing less-than-ideal results for students, the current economic state means that the federal budget will have to be tightened, even in areas that seem vital to some, like CTE funding. Perhaps the answer is a balance between for-profit and public schools, and between vocational and academic education.

Another non-traditional path to career education is a gap year between high school and college.

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