clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

An important point about college versus vocational training

Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

This, from Sandy Baum's February report on the college lifetime earnings premium, is a really important point:

"Going to college" does not always mean going to a four-year institution or pursuing a bachelor's degree. For individuals on the fence about whether or not to pursue postsecondary education, a bachelor's degree is a relatively uncommon choice. ... It is common to hear the suggestion that many students should forgo college and instead seek vocational training. But most of that training takes place in community colleges or for-profit postsecondary institutions that are included in most metrics relating to college enrollment.

Criticisms of increased spending on financial aid, for example, often argue that too many people are going to college in the first place, and that the US should beef up its vocational training programs for high-wage skilled jobs that don't need a four-year degree.

But unless they're talking about tracking students into the trades in high school, that's probably going to involve investing in what the government considers "college." Even New York's celebrated P-Tech high school, considered a model of vocational education in the 21st century, is an early college high school where students earn college credits. College or vocational training isn't an either/or at all.