Legislators and business leaders tend to focus on the number of college graduates in a country. Educators, however, know that college is not for everyone.
We need educated people to fill a variety of careers, not all of which require a four-year college degree. While educators are usually blamed for pushing students into college, anyone who works with students knows that not everyone is cut out for it. That doesn’t mean that they feel those students shouldn’t seek additional education.
According to 2019 statistics, 35% of people in the U.S. have a four-year college degree or higher. The U.S. ranks 13th in the world in proportion to population behind Canada, Russia, and Lithuania. In 2019, 3.9 million students graduated with a college degree. Of those, 1.9 million earned a bachelor’s degree and 989,000 earned an associate’s degree.
Many parents have encouraged children to attend college in order to get a “good-paying job.” Parents who worked in the trades often encourage their children to go to college so they wouldn’t face the challenges and lack of respect that they received during their career. While attitudes are slow to change, the reality is that jobs in the trades can provide a respectable and lucrative career. They also provide a level of personal accomplishment one may not see in other careers.
The community college system in Virginia was established to provide additional education at a more reasonable cost for those who want to further their education but feel that a four-year college wasn’t for them. Associate degrees provide specific training which can assist students in landing a good job without incurring massive debt. Students are often able to work while taking classes. Community colleges also provide opportunities to earn certifications which allow workers to expand their expertise and improve their salary.
In 1966, the Virginia Community College system was created. In 1970, Germanna Community College in Orange opened to provide affordable post-high school educational classes to students in Orange, Culpeper and surrounding counties. Today, Germanna’s enrollment is over 7,000 students and the campus has grown to have several locations throughout the region.
Course offerings have grown over the years at community colleges as well. With an agreement with four-year state colleges and universities, students can transfer credits earned at community colleges and apply them toward their four-year degree.
In the face of the pandemic, many students have chosen to attend community colleges since all classes are online. Many plan to transfer to a four-year college after completing their general education requirements. Undoubtedly, this is not the original direction of the community college system but it has evolved to meet the needs of students today.
In the past, high schools provided an expanded curriculum in the trades. Educators and legislators were in agreement that a variety of educational paths were needed. Over time, state-level decision-makers changed direction, moving toward more college preparatory classes. As a result, we face a shortage of skilled tradesmen.
The attitude of our society is slowly coming around. Tradesmen are receiving the respect they didn’t receive in the past. Advancements in computers and technology have made these jobs more complex, requiring specific skill sets.
The opening of the Culpeper Technical Education Center will provide educational opportunities for our students that are sorely needed. This program will also help to provide the work force needed by area businesses. It’s been a long time coming and it will fill a void that’s existed within our school system.
If our goal truly is to provide a solid foundation for all students to be successful, having numerous pathways for them is imperative.
Culpeper County resident
Elizabeth Hutchins is a former educator. She served 16 years
on the county School Board.
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