NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Occupational Training Programs: A Viable Alternative to a College Degree?

April 23, 2015

There is currently more focus than ever on the importance of earning a college degree. At the same time, many students and parents are dubious that America's expensive, one-size-fits-all higher education system can adequately educate students for an ever more diverse and sophisticated world of work.

American Enterprise Institute's Center on Higher Education Reform commissioned four case studies on high-quality occupational training programs at U.S. schools—including one high school and several higher education institutions—that strive to equip students with marketable job skills and prepare them for the world of work.

General takeaways include:

  • Austin Polytechnical Academy—a high school that formerly received high praise for offering a manufacturing and engineering curriculum to a traditionally low-performing, urban student population—is a telling example of the successes and struggles of establishing, at the secondary education level, new pathways to college and careers.
  • Several automotive manufacturers with major US plants have collaborated with community colleges to design and implement factory-specific training programs. Mercedes-Benz's partnership with Shelton State Community College, for example, place students on a clear pathway from college to employment at the partner's factory.
  • Stackable credentials are an emerging trend where colleges break up associate or bachelor's degree programs into smaller, more discrete certificates that can build on each other to provide students with more efficient and flexible educational pathways leading to lucrative careers in local industries. In particular, Brazosport College, a community college in Texas, successfully employs a stackable credentialing model in two programs.

Even still, many policymakers are hesitant to endorse tracking students into occupational training programs, and parents tend to have higher aspirations for their children than technical training.

Source: Andrew P. Kelly, Kevin J. James, Daniel K. Lautzenheiser, KC Deane and Rooney Columbus, "Building Paths To The Middle Class: Innovations In Career and Technical Education," American Enterprise Institute, April 2015. 


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