The emeritus English professor David McGrath told this inspirational story to Chicago Sun-Times. It’s about one of his students whose dilemma is that of many students in the United States. In fact, it could be your child or grandchild’s dilemma as well.
It was a day like any other, and Professor McGrath’s pupils were working in the computer lab. Each station in the lab had a wraparound console which provided the pupils with the privacy they need to focus on their writing.
However, this type of classroom didn’t allow the professor to see everyone at a glance. While he was walking in between the rows of stations, he noticed the 19-year old student William with his head in his hands.
“Are you okay?” – Professor McGrath whispered but got no answer. William was shaking, so McGrath thought he must be dealing with family issues. Upon asking him one more time, William lifted his head reluctantly and said:
“I can’t do this; it’s too much pressure.”
After a brief discussion, it turned out that William’s anxiety didn’t allow him to make his lab assignment. The same thing happened with his homework last week.
Namely, he received D on professor McGrath’s paper which made him fear and worry that he will fail and become a huge disappointment to his parents.
McGrath tried to cheer him up by saying there’s still time to end the semester with a good grade. And, that’s when William said he was feeling awful in the here and now. He never wanted to go to college, but everyone expected him to do so. It was a college degree or nothing.
When professor McGrath started teaching, he rarely saw students who were not interested in the 4-year degree academic journey.
These were the students who started apprenticeships, acquired internships or took jobs in manufacturing or industry as the culmination education programs in high school.
However, today they are more and more students with the same dilemma as William’s. They don’t have better options, so they end up in some classroom as that of McGrath.
High school counselors and parents tell them they need a college degree to find a decent job. Otherwise, they will end up in the fast-food industry working for a low-wage job.
According to the National Assessment of Vocational Education, enrollment in vocational education is declining in the last decades, with corresponding cuts in federal funding.
Vocational classes in Chicago Schools were severely reduced, and programs entirely dismantled over the last 20 years.
This is bad news for the city and students like William since the city competes for the new headquarters of Amazon which offers around 50,000 jobs requiring only vocational education, and not a college degree.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that around 68% of high school graduates go to college. So, the rest of them, or 32%, are unqualified for a job that can get them out of poverty.
Forty percent of those who go to college, never finish. This happened to William as well, dropping before the end of the semester.
So, how can we solve the problem?
Many parents believe that technical and vocational jobs are inferior, which made them steer young people unsuited or unwilling for an academic study into frustration, depression, and failure. So, we must debunk that inference!
We need a campaign of parental education, public relations, and cash to fight this stigma.
That’s right; cash motivations in the form of higher salaries for insurance agents, veterinary technicians, auto mechanics, MRI technologists, choreographers, railroad equipment operators, physical therapist aides, medical assistants, and many other jobs that don’t require college but that need to be filled in our country.
As professor McGrath says, thousands of construction workers need $44,000 starting salary to build the new headquarters of Amazon, who will require training on the job or in the types of vocational education programs our society needs to resurrect.
By David McGrath