EDITORIAL: Local schools challenge college-only model for success

September 13, 2016 Updated: September 13, 2016 at 11:25 am
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Prediction: Widefield and Peyton school districts will start a national educational trend. Educators will visit this region to learn from these districts and emulate their new program.

Modern American culture tells high school graduates to enroll in college regardless of costs, with or without well-defined career goals. We end up with surpluses of lawyers and various other subject experts who work outside the disciplines they studied. The economy has limited ability to employ art history experts, sociologists, theologians and journalists. Under-employed graduates struggle to pay off college loans, which so often represent a poor investment.

Meanwhile, the market suffers a dearth of cabinet makers, welders, electricians, mechanics and other skilled trade professionals not produced by traditional colleges and universities. Throughout Colorado, school districts are reemphasizing education and training in technical trades for students with talents and interests that don't match or require the traditional four-year-degree model.

The latest step in the right direction - and it is a big step - involves a partnership of Widefield School District 3 and Peyton School District 23-JT. As explained in a news story by Gazette reporter Debbie Kelley, the districts are building a giant first-of-a-kind national training center for skilled trades. The center will begin with woodworking, then expand to metals, construction, automotive and possibly more.

"Some kids are just better with their hands, and that's what they want to do," Peyton Superintendent Tim Kistler said. "We'll be giving students the hands-on skills they need to go into good-paying jobs."

The districts formed a legal entity this summer, the Peyton/Widefield Vocational Education Partnership. They bought a vacant potato-chip manufacturing plant south of the Colorado Springs Airport, and the center will open after extensive remodeling.

"We'll work with businesses and change our curriculum to match industry needs," Kistler said.

"Rather than us as educators telling businesses here's your kids, we're listening to businesses that are saying 'here's our needs,' " said Widefield Superintendent Scott Campbell.

This is not a shot in the dark, in which educators hope the market wants more high school graduates with honed vocational skills. It is so in demand, industry is already investing. Stiles Machinery, in Grand Rapids, Mich., has committed $500,000 to $1 million worth of equipment for the woodworking curriculum, Other tool companies and manufacturers are considering additional financial support.

The Stiles commitment required the campus be within 15 minutes of an airport and close to restaurants and hotels. That means the company sees the center as grounds for recruitment. About 77,000 companies across the nation offer jobs that require use of Stiles machines.

"We're training them not just in theory but in practicality for what a job in this field looks like," Campbell said.

We second that. The program will improve the lives of students who have poor odds of success in the culture's one-track-for-all approach to career preparation. If this catches on nationally, as we predict, society will have fewer under-employed college graduates, buried under debt, and more essential builders, repair specialists and skilled technicians. Everyone will benefit. the gazette editorial board

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