Four Problems Posed by Vocational Schools

For many students finishing high school, college may not be an option, either for reasons of finances, academic record or sheer desire. Vocational schools offer a practical compromise. Vocational schools offer skills-based training in a specific field or industry. Students graduating from these schools are often considered qualified for immediate hire in their specific fields in which they have been trained. Vocational schools typically cost less to attend than traditional college, and admissions requirements are much more lenient. There are many reasons why a student may want to consider vocational school for him or herself.

However, there are also several problems posed by vocational schools to be aware of. Since the creation of vocational schools, many social commentators have argued that these types of educational institutions had the potential of creating many kinds of social problems that could have lasting effects on American society. For individual students, vocational schools have certain inherent problems that can diminish the quality of education such a school boasts offering. Three of the most significant of these problems include the placement of at-risk students, the transferability of skills and the challenges these schools face in providing college readiness.

Placement of At-Risk Students

Often, the students who enroll in vocational programs are those who could not get admitted to traditional academic programs for any number of reasons, including academic, social or economic challenges. Less stringent admissions and enrollment requirements and generally lower tuition fees tend to attract more students without high school diplomas or who may have a criminal records or behavioral health issues. Oftentimes, students with learning disabilities or behavior problems are diverted by authorities or other institutions to vocational schools. While this can be an advantage to those students in providing them access to an education that could help them to become more productive and functioning members of society, it can affect the learning environment for other vocational school students who do not present these challenges. Focus, motivation, attendance and performance can all be affected by the composition of the student body in any given classroom. Students ill-equipped for an educational environment can present an impediment the learning, development and success of other students, in addition to themselves.

Transferability of Skills

Whereas academic training tends to focus on developing more adaptive abilities to think and solve problems, which can be transferred across various fields, vocational training is often restricted to a specific skill set for a specific occupation or field. This can make graduates unprepared to take on new or increased responsibilities, even within their fields. The specificity of vocational training can also make it difficult for graduates to make career changes when necessary. Additionally, many vocational schools only teach the skills necessary to perform a job without giving any background information or theoretical knowledge, so many graduates are left unaware of the reasons why they perform certain activities. This can be particularly troubling for careers in health care. Vocational programs in academic institutions, like colleges and universities, may incorporate a broader and more comprehensive academic approach into their curriculum, including instruction in more theoretical knowledge and transferrable skills. However, vocational schools are often distinctly lacking in this regard.

Career versus College Preparedness

Students should consider whether they plan on attending a college or university after graduating from a vocational institute prior to enrolling in such a school. Some students may approach vocational schools as a stepping stone between high school and college, particularly if they do not qualify for admittance in a college or university. Many vocational institutes may also advertise that their students can enroll in a college upon graduation. The problem is that not all vocational schools prepare students equally for college. Many vocational schools offer an exclusively career-oriented program with no credits that could transfer to any college or university program. Others offer a college preparatory curriculum as part of their program. However, even these college preparatory programs have been criticized for giving students a false sense of confidence in their abilities to succeed in a college or university by providing them with inadequate education. Individuals who are considering attending a college or university after graduating from a vocational school should be aware of the possibility that they may need to start over from scratch.

These problems posed by vocational schools are not insurmountable. Even many proponents of vocational schools advocate for incorporating more generalized education into their curricula in order to better prepare students to adapt to whatever they may face in this rapidly changing workplace environment.