Career Education Must be a Priority

The days when a "three R’s" education was sufficient to provide a middle-class lifestyle are long over.

Though jobs requiring low-level skills still exist (just 18 percent of Illinois jobs), they no longer pay enough to provide access to homeownership and a comfortable retirement.

Surveys show most Americans believe earning a college degree is essential to success. Yet only about 39 percent of Americans have earned either a two- or four-year degree.

That has led the Lumina Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and President Obama to call for a national effort to increase college graduation rates, particularly at the two-year degree level. Focusing on two-year degrees is particularly important because in the next decade, 41 percent of Illinois jobs will be "middle-skill" jobs, requiring more education than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree. And these jobs can provide access to a middle-class lifestyle.

What are middle-skills jobs? They range from engineering technicians to professionals, paralegals, automotive technicians, construction managers, heating/air conditioning repairers, and more – offering annual salaries as high as $70,000.

This year, Illinois high schools and community colleges will receive $105.7 million in state and federal funds for career and technical education programs. But this funding has been on the chopping block.

During this year’s budget deliberations, career and technical education funding was nearly eliminated. Funding was only restored because the cut would have resulted in Illinois losing an additional $48.9 million in federal education money.

The threat of drastic cuts looms even larger for 2010. As the governor and legislators begin next year’s budget discussions, the Illinois Community College Trustees Association urges them to keep career and technical education as strong priorities.

Given the importance of middle-skills jobs to our state, we cannot afford cuts in these vital programs.

Barbara D. Oilschlager
President, Illinois Community College Trustees Association
Vice chair, College of Lake County board of trustees

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