We have been sitting here since about 9:30 a.m. – about two and a half hours. Actually, that’s not entirely true; we went to get some food and purchase a catalog and course schedule at the campus bookstore, but for the most part we have been waiting, patiently. It is important and the circumstances are tolerable. I am with my middle son as he makes his way through the enrollment process at American River College. Yes, the same school that was the beginning of my current (and most productive) foray into the world of higher education.
Timmy recently graduated from a well-known automotive technology trade school that made many promises but fulfilled few. Although the tour we took was impressive and by all outward appearances it looked like a state-of-the-art facility, the education he received was less than exceptional. More importantly, the job placement he was “promised” (they are very careful to disclaim any guarantee) never amounted to anything. True, the economy has much to do with finding a job of any sort, but this school’s reputation turned out to be more self-created than factual.
I have experienced not one, but two of these vocation training “institutes” and, combined with my son’s recent experience, have formed some very negative opinions regarding the lot of them. But I should qualify them by saying that when the economy supports a demand for the skills they teach, they can be very effective in opening doors where further and much more relevant “on the job training” builds upon the bare essentials these schools supply. But only when there is a demand… I have witnessed more than a few of these specialized schools fold when the technology they taught was know longer needed.
While it is true that automotive technology will likely never fall into obsolescence, it is also true that right now my son is competing with laid-off mechanics from closed auto dealerships who have years of experience - and many are willing to work for far less than they are accustomed to. If the economy was booming, as it was not too long ago, his technical training would have opened those now closed doors. But it is not, so now what?
School is a good place to weather a recession. Yes, I know, he was in “school” and it didn’t work out so well – and it is true for those graduating from real colleges with legitimate degrees as well. Bad is bad and it is hard for anyone to find work, but school is not a “do it and your done” proposition. One can always go back and there are a multitude of choices. Community colleges, in addition to offering the general education courses one needs to complete the first two years of college, also offer a number of vocational programs that are administered under the same authority that “real” schools operate under. One of the vocational programs I entered into was at such a school and the education I received was far superior to what I received at the specialized schools – both of which no longer exist.
So why didn’t he come here in the first place? Expediency. In just nine months, he would, in theory, complete what it might take two years or more going through the auto tech program at ARC. He was never one much for school (he is, after all, my son) and he was anxious to get into the work force. We didn’t know at the time how deep this recession would be, but he might have taken the gamble anyway. Now with an expensive automotive technology “degree,” he is still anxious to get into the work force, but also interested in doing something until that time comes and school is a good place to do it.
Although ARC has a robust automotive program, Tim is looking at broadening his skills by getting certified in welding. There are a few different certificates – enough to keep him busy for quite some time. Although he is not currently interested in obtaining an AS degree (a legitimate degree from an accredited institution), he might change his mind – and it is an option that not only exists, but also can lead to higher levels of education. Nothing is wasted; these courses are transferable if he so chooses.
And who knows? When I entered this very same institution in 2003, I had no aspirations to go beyond obtaining an AA degree – and journalism/political science/communication studies was not my major. But exposure to a collegiate experience – one that cannot be found in a purely vocational institute – lit a fire. I didn’t know I would like it – rather, I figured I would not. Why would I want to waste my time learning about stuff that I would never need? Turns out that need had nothing to do with it – I wanted to. And perhaps he will, too.
Or not. The point is (and experience tells me) that this taxpayer-supported institution will provide a superior education without the empty promises. It operates under a different auspices… it’s not all about “get ‘em in, get ‘em out and get paid;” it answers to a higher authority. It’s about not only learning, but also the learning environment. Although he wants to work, his experience coupled with the money it cost him has left him a bit more patient and a lot more eager to attempt a traditional scholastic setting again. And who knows where it may lead – after all, he is my kid.