By JOSELYN KING
The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register
WHEELING, W.Va. — West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Steven Paine is challenging the state’s educators to achieve an equal balance between college preparation courses and career and technical classes as half of the jobs needed in the future will require technical training — and not advanced college degrees.
“The reality is no more than 50 percent of the jobs today and tomorrow will require a four-year degree, yet we only prepare 17 percent of our kids for those two-year programs that have high technical skills as a prerequisite for placement into occupations,” he said. “That’s a real mind-shift that I have to make, and you all have to be challenged with, too.”
Surveys are showing that graduates from two-year programs in Maryland, Texas and Colorado have salaries that are exceeding those who have four-year degrees, and that is not expected to change in the future, according to Paine.
He asked the educators present to look at their local and regional economies, and seek to determine what future educational needs will be. He suggested a 50-50 curriculum balance between training for four-year colleges, and training for two-year associate degrees.
Paine said he hopes to push West Virginia lawmakers next year to enact legislation making it more easy for high school students to achieve a two-year associates degree while in high school. Such education would prepare young adults for a profitable career immediately after graduation.
WPHS principal Amy Minch said that option already is available to students at the school through WPHS’s partnership with West Virginia Northern Community College. In addition, other students may take career and technology classes that can lead to employment immediately after graduation.
WPHS welding classes produce 15 trained welders each year, and carpentry classes also are available at the high school, according to Minch. Machinists who graduate from WPHS also are in demand.
She expects there will be a need in the future to expand these programs to accommodate more students.
“Instead of blue collar, we call these ‘gold collar’ jobs,” Minch said. “That’s because they are making more money than their counterparts with four-year degrees.”
Paine also addressed a proposed change in policy that would lessen mandatory state high school graduation requirements from the present 24 credits to 21 credits.
He denied this was an attempt to “dumb down” education, but was rather an effort for local school districts to implement graduation requirements pertinent to their communities.
“I know your board and community will do this,” Paine said. “You will step up the game to require educational credits that are meaningful and customized to the Ohio County community.”
The recent deal with China inked by West Virginia officials will result in the need for “thousands of jobs” that will need to be filled by “highly skilled applicants,” he said.
“That has implications that will deeply impact Ohio County Schools, I think,” Paine said.
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