October 30, 2015

HIGHER EDUCATION BUBBLE UPDATE: Rubio Talks Up Vocational Education.

With college debt rising to unsustainable levels, and with a growing number of graduates of expensive colleges unable to find well-paying jobs, it’s critical that policymakers start experimenting with new ways to equip students with the skills and knowledge they need at a lower cost. An increased focus on vocational education should clearly be part of the mix—the four year-long liberal arts education isn’t for everyone, and data show that countries whose education systems emphasize practicable skills have lower unemployment rates.

That said, the United States probably can’t adopt a full-fledged German-style apprenticeship program. America has a high degree of labor mobility, and our educational system should give students a breadth of skills so that they have the flexibility to move from one company to another. And for all the failings of unaffordable four-year universities with bloated bureaucracies, it’s important that we don’t give up on liberal arts programs, which can go a long way toward fostering critical thinking and creativity in students with specific goals and aptitudes.

Rubio isn’t the only politician emphasizing vocational education; Hillary Clinton also said last year that the country should “get back to really respecting vocational and technical work.” It’s encouraging to see leading politicians start to rethink a failing educational system. Let’s hope that some of this rhetoric can be translated into intelligent policy changes that maximize students’ leeway to choose the path that is right for them.

Mike Rowe, call your office.

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