Welder at work
Brittany Wagner

During last Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate, Marco Rubio joked, “For the life of me, I don’t know why we have stigmatized vocational education. Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.” Some have questioned the accuracy of his statement (yes, philosophy majors earn more on average, but there are a lot more jobs in welding than there are in philosophy), but in any case, he did push us to think about the value we place on vocational and technical preparation in schools. Is Missouri doing enough to prepare students who want to be welders? Are our schools too focused on trying to make students into philosophers?

In Ascension Parish, Louisiana, high-school students don’t have to wait until college to access technical education—they can take courses through their traditional public schools, as The Foundation for Excellence in Education depicts in a recently released a video titled “Course Access: Expanding Access & Equity in Louisiana.”

Course access (or “course choice”) allows students to direct funding to approved course providers outside of their traditional public school and to receive credit for classes they successfully pass. This allows students to customize their education while remaining in their home districts. Enrolling in welding courses has put students like Stormi Honeycut (shown in the video) on the path to high-paying careers without ever having to pay thousands of dollars to a technical college.

According to www.tech-schools.us, 69 colleges offer technical programs at 91 locations in Missouri. Some tech programs cost as much as traditional university education. Ranken Technical College in St. Louis, for example, costs $14,000 per academic year, which is impractical for many students.

If Missouri adopted a course access program, students could enroll in courses through approved technical programs at no additional expense to the students or taxpayers while still in high school. Funds would simply be redirected from what the school district already uses. By the time they graduated, students could be well on their way to a solid career in a trade.

When I first started at the Show-Me Institute, I told the story of my experience teaching in a low-income school district. I wrote:

…one day, I noticed a child staring out the window at the construction site adjacent to the building.  The student mumbled to himself, “if only school was doing construction work, then I’d have an A-plus.”

As a teacher, I learned that if students want to be welders, schools that want to make them into philosophers won’t help them, no matter how effective the teachers are. Imagine the reverse—we would surely oppose trying to make students who want to be philosophers into welders. Why don’t we recoil when folks try to make welders into philosophers? For students more interested in a vocational career than a philosophy degree, course access offers a path forward.

About the Author

Brittany Wagner
Education Policy Research Assistant

Brittany Wagner was an education policy research assistant at the Show-Me Institute.