Students and Alumni Seek Vocational Alternatives to the Traditional College Path

May 18, 2023


Once the high school year ends and the seniors go on about their life, do they know what they can do to further their education and go on with their lives? The majority of the time, students go to four-year colleges, but we should acknowledge that it isn’t universally suitable. It’s important to recognize that going to college isn’t the only option to better your education and yourself. Vocational schools and apprenticeships can offer valuable alternatives for those seeking hands-on training and career-focused education.

With the soaring cost of education, many students are falling into debt for years in student loans, but other routes are getting popular that are very lucrative. While traditional four-year colleges may offer a broad education, they don’t necessarily provide the hands-on training that many industries demand. Students who may not be interested in pursuing a traditional college degree can take advantage of vocational education.

Vocational programs are more affordable and take less time to complete than a traditional college degree, allowing students to enter the workforce more quickly, with less college debt, and they are very remunerative.

Gustavo Tagliari is an SRHS graduate who decided not to take the four-year college path. Tagliari always knew that he wanted to be a software engineer. He noticed the college prices were pretty high and planned to go to the College of Marin (COM). He also learned how to code through free online programs. 

“There are many other paths in life, such as boot camps, trade schools, entrepreneurship,” said Tagliari. He was told by a friend to attend the boot camp called Year Up, which helps people learn and continue their careers for the price of nothing. He did so and was taught for five months and then went into an internship for six months. Then he interned at Slack and was given a full-time role.

We were unaware of alternative options such as vocational schools or apprenticeships, which give you many different learning experiences to explore career paths until I (Vansh Negi) came across a summer program at the College of Marin called Career Exploration. Many students still may not know how to access information about these opportunities.

Alex Lopez is a senior at SRHS, and while speaking with him, we asked if he knew anything relating to internships or vocational schools. He said, “To be honest, I have no idea. I have not heard of any at all.” 

SRHS alum Anette Bautista was always told throughout high school to go to a four-year college but was never told of any other option. She said, “The mindset was to only go to a four-year college and succeed.” She always knew about other paths because she liked to learn and was always curious about education. She ultimately chose to go to college.

After high school, you usually go to college, get a degree, and set yourself up for a great and successful career. But remember, this path is not the only thing students can choose. It’s also not the only way to achieve success.

In recent years, there has been a growing recognition that vocational schools and apprenticeships can offer valuable alternatives to traditional college education. These programs provide hands-on training and career-focused education that can lead to well-paying jobs and fulfilling careers. Plus, these alternatives are far cheaper than going to college. 

The job market continues to change and grow. The traditional approach of high schools preparing students for college might not cut it since there are many industries that require specialized skills and knowledge. That is why alternative vocational schools and apprenticeships can prove to be beneficial. They allow people to enter the workforce with experience and knowledge.

Although the alternatives are quicker, there are some drawbacks. How it differentiates from a college degree is that instead of doing a four-year degree, the more specialized work you do really only limits you to that one job, unlike the degree, which is more broader in a career. In addition, the alternatives require consistency and being proactive.

The real success after high school is to find the path that works best for each student. While college is an excellent option for many students, there are other ways to be successful. It all depends solely on the person. Pete Wolfgram, an SRHS counselor, said, “But for the students, it’s really what they make of it. Students have to try and get out of their comfort zone to learn; if they don’t, then they don’t learn much. Always try to improve.”

Andre Culo, an SR senior, talked about the fault not being the school’s administration but the whole system. He believes that vocational school can become essential to students’ learning. “I think CTE programs should be encouraged and funded much better to have more options available,” said Andre.

SRHS has been trying to do the best for its students. They give students Career and Technical Education (CTE). CTE programs allow students to get specialized training in career fields. What SRHS offers currently is Max Academy and Academy of Engineering and Technology. In the upcoming year, SRHS is also going to add a Construction Academy, and they intend to keep adding more academies. 

So we went to Steve Temple, who is an SRHS teacher who teaches in both the academies and is also a computer science teacher, and he shared his perspective. He said, “I think it could be doing a little bit more with trying to help students become independent thinkers and be able to problem solve.”

Mr. Temple showed approval of the past rigid school system, which the school has been taking steps to change. “I do think we focus a lot on college, and there are many jobs out there not requiring a degree,” said Mr. Temple.

During the interview, Mr. Temple mentioned that high schools shouldn’t be held fully accountable because it is also students that need to take a different approach and be open to the idea of challenging themselves. There is a limit to what schools can do for students. 

According to him, students are not opening their minds to learning which often puts them at the disadvantage of not experiencing new things which might help them explore their interests. “I think there’s this sort of sense that let’s take the easiest path through high school, and I think in the immediate that makes sense, right,” he stated. “It’s like, I want to have my donut now, as opposed to, you know, waiting late, making certain sacrifices to actually, maybe earn something better in the future.” 

Mr. Temple’s firm belief in allowing students to have a different kind of learning experience, where students focus more on producing things. And do not worry about grades because it’s secondary.

Pablo Rabanales is a senior at SRHS. He is very aware of other opportunities. He said, “Yeah, I know that there are other paths, such as trade schools, and I found out about them through SRHS.”

In recent years, we have seen a growing trend toward reducing homework due to concerns with students’ mental health situations. Prioritizing students’ mental health is essential, but at the same time, it is crucial to recognize the work needed to be successful academically, do hard work, and be dedicated toward goals. Students not giving their 100 percent effort and thinking critically could affect them in the future. Students need to take the initiative to bring hunger to learn something new and put in the effort to achieve their goals. 

Excessive homework can sometimes become overwhelming for students’ mental health, and it could end up in problems like anxiety and depression. As Mr. Temple mentions striking a balance between reducing homework loads and ensuring that students have the skills and knowledge they need to succeed academically is important for students’ development.

A common issue seniors have is what they want their career to be and going immediately into adulthood doesn’t help them out either. Although there are many internships available for students to participate in, due to a lack of information on programs, students often tend to miss out on these opportunities.

Ivan Diaz is a career counselor for SRHS. He said, “Internships allow students to kind of explore the career field while doing their high school education.” Internships are fascinating ways for a student to figure out whether or not they liked the internship they applied for. 

It’s important to acknowledge that many parents work long hours every day and may not have the time or energy to fully support their children’s learning, particularly when it comes to topics like economics. This is why schools should not rely solely on parents to teach their children about economics and financial literacy.

Abigail Spaelti is a teacher at SRHS who teaches seniors government and economics, a graduation requirement class. Economics has been a graduation requirement for many years in California high schools, but something new that is being added to it is the personal finance unit. “Personal finance hasn’t always been a graduation requirement or a part of economics, but we have been teaching it here at SR for a very long time,” said Mrs. Spaelti. Economics is required for one semester alongside Government.

Financial literacy has also been a major missing part of the high school curriculum for many years, but it has started to change, making it a state standard. It is typically taught for a semester, during which students learn about making a budget, how to do their taxes, and most importantly, about making choices. This unit is often called “the fast-paced unit” as it only briefly introduces personal finance and may not be enough to make the topic fully understandable.

“We are trying to shove it in somewhere where we think we can fit it. But the state isn’t giving us enough time actually to focus on those things that are really important,” commented Mrs. Spaelti.

In our Econ and Gov classes, we miss out on many things. From what I (Alex Bautista) have seen is that my Econ/Gov teacher cut out some lessons because, in the time they have within the one semester, not everything can be taught. Also, it’s not to say I haven’t learned anything. There are many things I have learned, but when compared to how much more there is, we can see that merely a fragment is taught to us.

Furthermore, Mrs. Spaelti mentioned that SR used to have auto and wood shop-type career choices from which students could really benefit, but they were removed from the curriculum because they weren’t a high school goal. 

“Careers like plumbers, electricians – those are great careers. You can make a lot of money doing that, and they aren’t necessarily things that are a focus in high school. I feel like we keep pushing kids in the direction of college and four-year college, and like, there are so many other opportunities out there,” said Mrs. Spaeliti.

Skills and experience matter more in the workforce nowadays. Companies like Tesla and SpaceX have started to hire brighter minds without a college degree. In this article, the CEO Elon Musk says that he doesn’t care much if you have gotten higher education or not. He wants to find skilled people, and the hiring process requires two things, First-hand experience and Hands-on testing.

Emily La, a SRHS alum, shared her experience of volunteering with different internships where she found her passion for becoming a counselor. She worked with kids and found herself continuing this kind of work in the future. “High school didn’t advertise internships as well, so I had to do my own research.” Said Emily.

Although Emily did end up going to San Diego State University, where she is majoring in psychology, she talked about her always being on the path to going to college. She also mentioned that she would take all the opportunities her parents didn’t have and how higher education was her only option.“I did it to make my parents proud, but I also did it to make myself proud to see how far I can go with hard work,” Emily continued. 

Many students, like Emily, face very similar situations where the traditional way to become successful is to go to college and get bombarded with college tuition, spending decades paying it off. However, this doesn’t have to be the only path to success. By exploring alternative education and career paths, students can find fulfilling and financially stable careers without taking on a mountain of debt. 

“The counselors in high school weren’t super helpful because they mainly focused on keeping your grades up, but didn’t tell me their college stories and didn’t give me any advice,” Emily added. The lack of help from counselors led Emily to do her research to find information.

Counselors play an important role in students’ future plans, limiting their options only to colleges, which could bring many adverse outcomes. With poor prospective planning, students often drop out of college. According to the research done by the Education data initiative organization, 39 million Americans were college dropouts in July 2020; around 40% of undergraduate students leave universities and colleges every year, and it’s been increasing every year. SRHS senior O’Marion Beard said, “College is pretty expensive, and even with financial aid, it’s still a lot.”

The traditional four-year college path is the commonly known path to further one’s education and be successful. Seniors tend to lean towards college unknowingly because they grow up being told this is the path. It is essential to recognize that the alternatives, such as vocational schools and apprenticeships, can provide valuable hands-on training and career-focused education. 

With the consistently rising cost of education and daunting student loans, vocational programs are more affordable and efficient. More specific training helps people attain skills and enter the workforce more quickly. Knowing other pathways and opportunities would be beneficial so an individual can know what they want to do and succeed.


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