South Carolina is considered one of the best states in the nation to do business, yet we are approaching a point where we will be unable to keep up with the workforce demands of business and industry. For far too long, the educational bureaucracy has forced students into a standard diploma track, removing their ability to follow any technical-field aspirations they may possess.
While we should never discourage students from pursuing higher education at a baccalaureate institution, we must begin highlighting the many opportunities that our career academies and technical colleges can provide, including those high-skill manufacturing jobs that pay extremely well and provide amazing benefits.
It is with this in mind that I encourage state leaders to support multiple diploma paths. Giving students additional options that cater to their post-secondary goals will better prepare them to become high-functioning and productive members of society. Each year, more than a million students in this country drop out of high school, not because they don’t like their teacher or don’t understand the work but because they find school unrelentingly boring and irrelevant.
SC faces shortfall of workers with at least a 2-year degree
Giving schools and teachers greater flexibility in teaching relevant courses is the whole idea behind multiple-diploma pathways, with many states offering at least two diploma tracks. Adding diploma options does not mean abandoning the state-mandated number of classes for graduation; it means giving students the option to complete courses relevant to their career interests.
South Carolina is in a prime position to offer three paths to graduation. In addition to preparing our students for a traditional college setting, we can also support those students more interested in pursuing a two-year technical degree by giving them the freedom to complete pathway-specific courses in conjunction with career-specific electives.
Going even further, we can offer a diploma that is geared toward those who may want to enter the workforce directly, while still laying the foundation for post-secondary educational opportunities if they so choose.
Some critics may have a kneejerk reaction to what they perceive as a “dumbing down” of the curriculum. I would encourage them to compare the reading level of a technical manual at Boeing to the classic Beowulf. Our students entering the world of advanced manufacturing can attest to the fact that their on-site training and instruction is far more difficult than their scholarly studies.
As graduation rates rise, some fear standards are falling
South Carolina Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt has done yeoman’s work attracting business and industry to the Palmetto State, and he along with other leaders can attest to the fact that a strong and viable workforce is crucial if South Carolina wants to compete for and retain business and industry.
After spending the majority of my career in Georgia, it was a great relief to return two years ago to a South Carolina that was much stronger and more economically diverse than when I left more than 30 years ago. Yet I fear that continuing with this one-size-fits-all approach to education will not give our students the skills they need to survive and thrive in our new global economy.
As the 2016 legislative session gears up, I encourage all of those passionate about education to become actively engaged in the political process and to advocate for common-sense measures that can improve public education.
Dr. Wilson is superintendent of Anderson School District 5; contact him at TomWilson@anderson5.net.