Opinion

Career And Technical Education: A Pathway To Success

REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Rep. Glenn Grothman Congressman, Wisconsin's 6th District

Every day it seems I hear more and more stories of college graduates facing mounting student loan debt.

Recently, I hosted a town hall meeting in my district where I was approached by a young couple in their early thirties. They explained to me how they have so much student loan debt that they’ve put off buying a house and even getting married because they simply can’t afford it. To make matters worse, neither is using their degree in their current job.

Unfortunately, this story is not uncommon.

Cases like this are part of the reason why I’ve been such a vocal supporter of technical colleges and trade schools during my time in government. Young adults should start choosing higher education paths that best suit their needs, while incurring the least amount of student debt and learning skills that are always in demand. Employers in construction, manufacturing and health care are in desperately in need of skilled employees.

Don’t get me wrong – not everyone can work with their hands. Some people should still go to a traditional, four-year college; however, it shouldn’t be the only path emphasized to our young people. Right now, we have far too many people going to college and then going back to learn a trade or get a technical school degree when they’re 30.

Currently in the U.S., 42.4 million Americans have a combined student loan debt of $1.3 trillion. This is due to a number of factors that I hope Congress takes up when we reauthorize the Higher Education Act, but the fact remains that a large reason for this spike is due to an increased number of students entering four-year colleges.

The average bachelor’s degree in the U.S. now costs $127,000, which is an unsustainable cost for the majority of Americans. Yet, despite this exceedingly high cost, more students are going to four-year colleges now than ever before.

Meanwhile, the average technical school degree costs just $33,000, with graduates from these programs facing some of the best job prospects in positions that pay well.

By 2018, it’s estimated the 47 million job openings will require an associate’s degree or certificate that can be attained through a career and technical education program. Furthermore, it’s not uncommon for workers with technical degrees to make upwards of $90,000 depending on job specialty.

Trade and vocational schooling provides young adults with lucrative careers in less time than traditional college, allowing them to get married, have children, buy homes and ultimately drive our economy more quickly.

For example: I recently attended an Eagle Scout ceremony for a young man in my district. He’ll be attending technical school in the fall to learn how to repair farm equipment. Most likely, he’ll graduate in less time, with less debt and a higher-paying job than many of his peers.

Through my position on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, my colleagues and I are working to make a career and technical education more accessible to students in our communities. That is why I proudly supported the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act when it passed unanimously in committee, and will do so again when it comes to the House floor for a vote.

The bill helps career and technical education programs provide students with the skills they need to compete for jobs that exist in our local communities by removing Washington bureaucrats from the day-to-day operations of the schools, and by giving states more flexibility to use federal funds to support these career and technical education programs.

Later this week, President Trump will be discussing the importance of American jobs. Bringing career and technical education to the forefront of this discussion by passing the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act is an important step to grow our economy, lower our unemployment rate, fill the jobs we already have available and create new jobs. Doing so will surely add a needed boost to our economy, while leveraging local and state resources to meet the needs of our communities and local businesses.

U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman is serving his second term representing Wisconsin’s 6th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.