Vocational Track Gets Needed Boost
O ur own Sandhills Community College has long been a leader in the so-called Early College movement - a popular program in which such institutions combine forces with public school systems to provide career-oriented courses and activities to high-schoolers.
Now the N.C. General Assembly has approved a long-overdue measure that would widen and build upon that strong existing foundation. Specifically, it would encourage school districts across the state to develop curricula for the many students whose interests after graduation lean more in the direction of technical fields and trade jobs.
The state Senate, unanimously and in rare bipartisan fashion, approved the Career Ready Education Bill. Gov. Pat McCrory has endorsed it, which would appear to help put in on the fast track. It's a good idea, as far as it goes - and not to be confused with McCrory's unfortunate earlier comments that appeared to favor ridding the University of North Carolina of liberal arts folderol and steering it strictly toward churning out degrees leading to jobs.
Effective vocational education has been at least a lip-service priority in North Carolina since the 1950s, when the community college system was created in the first place. But, beyond bright spots such as the aforementioned Early College program, our state hasn't made nearly as much progress as some others toward developing strong vocational programs as an alternative to the academic track at regular high schools.
After all, not every child wants or needs a four-year degree. And one hears increasingly frequent complaints that existing employment opportunities are going unfilled because of a lack of qualified applicants. Clearly, more must be done to help equip potential workers to handle the jobs of the 21st century.
There's also a budgetary issue. Times are tight, to be sure. But, though legislators love to boast about the community college system, the reality is that there has seldom been enough financial support forthcoming to come close to fulfilling the need for effective work force development.
The Career Ready Education Bill sounds like a good start. But to put flesh on those theoretical bones, the legislators must now be prepared to put more of its money where its mouth is.
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