Under Utah law, the State Board of Education also serves as the State Board of Vocational Education, in theory controlling all vocational schools. In actual practice, such schools enjoy a great deal of autonomy. Unfortunately, the result is too much duplication and overlap.
Vocational training is expensive - considerably higher in most instances than academic courses - and Utah can ill afford duplication of facilities.The state operates five area vocational centers. In addition, community colleges, once exclusively technical schools, offer vocational courses. And there are such classes at other colleges and universities, in high schools, and private schools. Some of these entities provide the same or similar services.
Critics point to a regional center in Ogden, while Weber State College has extensive vocational courses. There is a center in Davis County while other excellent facilities are within a few minutes driving distance. Another regional center is close to vocational facilities at Utah State University.
The vocational centers originally were established to provide additional educational opportunities for high school students, but have evolved into training centers for adult students, frequently providing specific training to meet needs of employers.
There is nothing wrong with that, but as the Utah Foundation pointed out this week, the change-over from local to state control has left neither side clearly in charge.
The area vocational centers once were financed by local school districts, but now are funded mostly from state money, supposedly under the jurisdiction of the State Board of Education. Yet local boards of the vocational centers have direct contact with the Legislature and are reluctant to give up that connection and submit to control of the State Board.
All of this is reminiscent of the struggle that accompanied giving the State Board of Regents authority over all the state's colleges and universities many years ago. For a long time, the individual schools fought against giving up their direct negotiations with the Legislature.
But if efficiency is to be achieved, vocational education must speak and act with one voice, and that voice must be the state board.
Too often, that voice is ignored. As the Utah Foundation noted, some school districts have developed expensive junior high and high school vocational facilities even when the state board made recommendations against such facilities.
It's not that Utah has too many vocational facilities. But there needs to be more coordination, more cooperative planning, more state-centered control of facilities and curriculum, and especially, more promotion of vocational training.
A master plan for vocational education in Utah has been in the works the past four years and is due to be finished in January 1989. Let's hope it leads to the end of turf battles and better targeting of the state's needs and resources in the vocational field.