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Welcome: Higher ed has never been the only path to meaningful careers

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As a parent of school-age children, you need to be aware of key information that will help you guide your child to make the best choices for their future.

Forbes says that there are more than 44 million borrowers who collectively owe $1.5 trillion in student loan debt in the U.S. alone. Student loan debt is now the second highest consumer debt category — behind only mortgage debt — and higher than both credit cards and auto loans, Forbes said.

That raises an important question: Is higher education the sole path toward a productive and meaningful career?

Studies show that of the 55 million job openings created by 2020, only about 30% will require some college or a two-year associate degree. Meanwhile, momentum continues to build nationally regarding the value and importance of career and technical education for high school youth. In a past Wall Street Journal editorial, Peter Downs noted that apprenticeship programs in European countries now include commercial pilots, lawyers, engineers, and accountants and that these apprenticeships are considered the equivalent of a college education in terms of the quality of education they provide.

Career and technical education plays a vital role in developing a well-educated and skilled workforce that will support American productivity and innovation through its emphasis on career and/or college readiness. As parents, you should embrace having your child select a career pathway in their high school, or choose to attend a vo-tech school. No matter what the choice, academics do and will always play a strong role in the development of your child. The bonus is having skills that make them employable for life.

So, what do you need to know as a parent to be able to guide your child in discussing their future career opportunities? I will highlight some steps for you but also encourage you to take the time to sit with your child and read and discuss this publication together.

To begin, you will read about the Delaware Pathways, a partnership that develops career pathways to high-growth, high-demand occupations for all high school students, not just the ones located in the six specialized career and technical high schools in the state. Delaware continues to be a model for other states to emulate because of the States expressed mission to provide all its young people the best opportunities for skill attainment to benefit from the evolving employment opportunities in our competitive global economy.

What else?

• Talk to your young children still in elementary school about career opportunities by pointing out observations about jobs when you are visiting various places and, if you are not sure how to approach these types of conversations with your child, talk to your child’s school guidance counselor or principal to get some ideas for conversation starters.

• Expose your child to career opportunities through books. Take them to the library or to a bookstore and borrow or buy books about various careers.

• Talk to your child’s middle school principal and/or counselor about what your district offers as career pathways in the high school your child would attend. Discuss these possibilities with your child and help them make a decision.

• Visit the specialized career and technical high schools in your home county during their open houses to see the multitude of career programs offered. Have a conversation with your child about what you saw and what the choices might be. Extend these conversations to talking about the work your relatives or friends do and discuss why they selected those fields.

• When considering post-secondary opportunities, don’t discount technology schools and other programs that can provide jobs upon completion of the training that might include those in the health careers, food industry, technology or the trades.

Research shows that more than 70% of high school graduates in career and technical programs pursue postsecondary education, and four out of five earn a credential or are still enrolled two years later.

Career and technical education today is not what our grandparents or parents experienced in the past. Today, programs are cutting-edge, rigorous and relevant, providing instruction in core academic skills that are necessary to support learning in all technical areas of study. Don’t discount or devalue these possibilities but embrace them as sound, practical and opportunistic choices for your child’s future success.

Victoria C. Gehrt, Ed.D, is the former superintendent of the New Castle County Vocational Technical School District.

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