Utah's Legislature has consistently attempted to fund growth in public and higher education, while vocational education has had to be content with "what's left over."
The 1991 Legislature, however, broke with custom in giving a higher percentage increase to vocational programs than to either higher or public education, said Sen. Haven Barlow, R-Davis."We did pretty well, but not as well as we should have done," said Barlow, a long-time advocate of technological training. His comments came during an annual meeting of the Utah Vocational Council in St. George this week.
Vocational/technical training has more potential for matching workers with the jobs that really are available than any other area of education, council members said in a far-ranging discussion of related issues.
Utahns are beginning to understand job market realities, speakers said, but much remains to be done to offset misconceptions. Approximately 80 percent of the jobs in the state require less than four years of preparation, but Utah high school graduates continue to prefer college as a prime objective. The imbalance creates unmet needs in the technology job market while oversupplies build up in the professions requiring baccalaureate degrees. Many college-trained individuals leave the state for lack of job opportunities.
That doesn't mean vocational/-technical education should receive 80 percent of the state's higher education dollars, said Max Lowe, vocational expert in the Commission for Higher Education. The costs of shorter-term training are not as great. But current budgets don't give vocational education, including the state's five area technical centers, a proportionate share of funding compared to their potential to generate a fast return on the investment. Enrollment at the centers has increased an average 26 percent per year and funding increases have been far less, creating waiting lists for some training programs.
Selling vocational/technical training as an acceptable alternative for Utahns will require changing long-held opinions about education, said Carol Berrey of the Department of Community and Economic Development. She summarized a study by Roger Vaughn Associates, Santa Fe, N.M., which concluded that increasing the prestige of technical education should be the state's first educational goal.
Millard School Superintendent Kenneth Topham told the council that attitudes toward education "are more damaging than weak curriculum." Society places more emphasis on athletics and other activities than on academic or vocational preparation, he said.
A new public education project is expected to significantly impact the job-readiness of high school graduates in nine districts, said Bruce Griffin, associate state superintendent. The nine-district consortium is aiming for a total restructuring of high school education so that graduates leave school with documented job skills.
The districts selected for the consortium are Cache, Washington, Granite, Provo, Davis, Weber, Uintah and San Juan.
Although each of the nine districts will tailor its own program, Griffin said, there are four general themes: To create occupational plans for each student; to design programs based on what students need, rather than accepted formats; to help students develop portfolios listing competencies, rather than moving them from level to level based on seat time; and to place students in jobs or advanced education after school.
"I believe we have a huge population of students who can and should be trained in high school," Griffin said.