When I scroll through my Facebook feed, I often see certain friends of mine—the ones who are against tuition-free public college—argue that, instead of putting money towards the current higher education system, we should put money into vocational education. Although I think that public post-secondary education in America should be tuition-free, I also agree that vocational education should be invested in as well.
Too many people treat the reformation of the post-secondary educational system as a zero-sum game. Either you must believe in the promotion of public tuition-free college at the expense of vocational education, or we should keep the current debt-sentence that college currently is and promote vocational education. The truth is, we can have both and there are examples in the world that demonstrate this.
Vocational education is great because it trains people to be high skilled laborers. In manufacturing and other aspects of the economy, skilled labor is in high demand. In Germany, public college is tuition-free. However, they have a very high rate of students going into vocational education. In fact, the rate of students in Germany that attend vocational education is roughly 51 percent.
When people buy an iPhone, they often think the money is going to China, because that is where they are assembled. Contrary to this belief, only 3.6 percent of the money spent on iPhones goes back to China. Germany actually gets a higher percentage — roughly 17 percent. Why is this? Germany has highly skilled workers that put together the components of a computer that are eventually assembled in countries like China. The workers are more important to the production because, without them, the components would not be able to be made.
Vocational education is important for that reason. It teaches people important skills that are vital in the global economy.
In addition, vocational school provides an opportunity for people to explore trades and skills that they enjoy and that provide a greater sense of purpose and fulfillment. Many people prefer to utilize their skills to craft things by hand and produce work that is tangible. This is a preference that is often forgotten in preparation for education after high school. We prioritize college for people who do not see themselves as a member of those communities. Jobs in these fields are more than capable of making a good living in today’s world. As a society, we should accept this reality and fund education institutions that enable people to become skilled in these fields.
The typical four-year education model makes sense for people that are learning liberal arts, business, engineering, science and education. The purpose of these positions is not necessarily in the realm of tangibility—it rests in the larger purpose of providing society with people who think in terms of business, innovation, philosophy and science. The purpose of this outlook is not to craft work—it is to think and to direct non-tangible works, like ideas on how aspects of society should be operated.
There is a reason to support both of these educational models. In the U.S., if we want to be successful, we need to create an environment where both are celebrated and enabled. This is not a zero-sum game. We should invest in all forms of education and get people to choose what truly fits their needs and desires. That is a more ideal post-secondary educational model. Everyone should pursue the field that brings them a greater sense of purpose and worth. Education brings enrichment, but enrichment is different for everyone. In that case, investing in both vocational school and universities ensures an educational system that prioritizes the needs of different people and makes us more competitive in the global economy.