One of Gov. Pat McCrory’s key education proposals has found legislative backing at the N.C. General Assembly.
The N.C. Senate voted unanimously last week to approve Senate Bill 14, which would make two tracks — college preparatory and vocational education — available to state high school students. The bill is currently in a House of Representatives committee.
As part of the Pathways to Prosperity Network, N.C. pledged to develop more career pathways for high-school students that incorporate community college courses. Common pathways include information technology and advanced manufacturing. Other participating states are:
During his campaign, McCrory advocated for the dual pathway system, with an emphasis on vocational training, as a means of boosting employment.
Beginning in the 2014-15 academic year, high school students would select one of three paths — college, career or both — and earn career endorsements in addition to diplomas, according to the bill.
Steve Farmer, vice provost for enrollment and undergraduate admissions at UNC-CH, said vocational education can motivate students to stay engaged in school and learn a wide range of skills.
He said the effect on university admissions remains unclear, but students who follow a vocational track would not be excluded from admission to the University — even though it is a liberal arts school — as long as those students took a rigorous course load.
“We don’t care what label is on the transcript,” Farmer said.
June Atkinson, state superintendent of public instruction, said in an email that students will gain credit beyond the national minimum requirements for high school graduation.
She said students would receive career endorsements for taking three or four courses in a specific concentration.
But Chris Hill, director of the Education and Law Project at the N.C. Justice Center, said the focus should be on making high school students both career- and college-ready — not one or the other.
“You shouldn’t have to make a decision about your career when you’re 15 or 16 years old,” Hill said.
He said minority groups might be pushed into vocational tracks because they have historically lower high school graduation rates.
“There are just too many unanswered questions for me,” he said.
The bill is only the start of the process, said Terry Stoops, director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation.
He said the bill directs the State Board of Education and the Department of Public Instruction to research similar models in other states and conduct trial runs of the dual-track system in select schools.
Five other states have pledged to develop multiple pathways for high school students.
“The bill gets the ball rolling on a series of larger reforms,” he said.
Stoops said he would like to see UNC-system schools play an active role in helping to develop the new vocational pathway.
“Some universities have the capacity to include career and technical training (for high-school students) on their campuses,” he said. “Legislators should invite them to the table and see what they have to offer.”
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