America’s education system isn’t exactly a well-oiled machine, on any level. According to the Federal Reserve, more than $1.4 trillion in student loan debt remains outstanding---over $600 billion more than the sum total of our national credit card debt.
Higher education, of course, has never been cheap---and there are strong indicators that specialized course programs, training academies and technical schools can focus American students toward lucrative careers in ways that the traditional four-year public colleges don’t. Or can’t.
In all-important STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, 21st century education comes with many options. And they don’t all consume four years---or longer---and cost the nest egg.
Carl Lavender, who manages the Office of Workforce Innovation at Pinellas Technical College, has heard all sides of the argument.
“People say, ‘Hold on now, they’ll pay that student loan money back,’” Lavender explained. “Well, they haven’t found enough jobs to pay back those lump sums.
“The smart household knows when the child isn’t a four-year college child: ‘But my child needs to work, so let me give him or her something they can do right now.’ And that’s why technical colleges are incredibly important right now.”
It’s not your grandfather’s technical school any more, turning out aspiring beauticians and auto mechanics. Between its campuses in St. Petersburg and Clearwater, FL, PTC offers intensive courses---most take a year or less---in computer systems and information technology, network support services, coding, pharmacy tech, web development, medical coding, record transcribing and administration, surgical technology and other crucial STEM-related careers.
These are in-demand careers.
“Between our two technical college campuses, we have 4,224 students enrolled,” Pinellas County School Superintendent Dr. Michael Grego said at an education roundtable in April. “We see 87 percent of these students graduate, and then we see 93 percent of our graduates placed into employment.”
The cost of the PTC education is considerably less than a four-year university tuition.
And the school’s success rate in industrial courses (welding, HVAC, electricity, automotive service technology, etc.) is impressive.
“It’s a smart conversation to discuss technical colleges as a forward-thinking workforce development plan,” Lavender said. “And there is this whole national movement regarding the craftsmen-slash-tradespeople that are retiring, and the need for prepared young people to step into those roles based upon the demand for the trades, of course, but also because the four-year degree isn’t the only path to take to self-defining work.”