ANALYSIS: Technical education gets new focus as four-year degrees lose value

If the left’s involvement in colleges and universities has corrupted those institutions, conservatives may fear that the trades will also become entrenched in leftist orthodoxy if liberals also have their hands in it.

For decades, there has been societal pressure on young people to pursue higher education under the assumption that obtaining a college degree would result in better career prospects and higher earnings. 

This notion was challenged during Axios’ event, Skills over Status: The Shift Toward Skills-Based Hiring, held on Apr. 19 in Washington, DC, where Chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and The Workforce Dr. Virginia Foxx discussed Congress’ refocusing on technical education over four-year colleges.

Other panelists included Governor Wes Moore of Maryland, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, and Senior Vice President and General Counsel of LinkedIn Blake Lawit. 

“Around 75% of the new jobs that were added to the U.S. economy between 2008 and 2017 required college degrees or higher, but nearly two thirds of the labor force is composed of workers without college degrees, and it’s not like all of those new jobs really need college degrees,” said Erica Pandey, Business Reporter at Axios. 

And this is what Dr. Foxx is hoping to change: ensuring that a degree is no longer a barrier to entering most careers.

[RELATED: PROF. GIORDANO: Schools are failing students]

“For far too long, we have perpetuated the idea that obtaining a baccalaureate degree is the pinnacle of success. More and more, people are waking up to the fact that America is transitioning to a skills-based economy and skills-based programs are the key to remaining competitive in the future,” Dr. Foxx told Campus Reform

And, for many non-degree holders things have already turned around. 

Utah Governor Spencer J. Cox and Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro made headlines when they issued executive orders that removed four-year degrees requirements for most state jobs. 

The private sector, especially technology companies, have also refocused hiring practices to include non-degree holders. Tesla, Apple, and Netflix are just a few of the tech companies that made the move. 

Employers’ newfound appreciation of skills, the panelists suggest, is a response to labor shortages

Secretary Cardona made that assertion during his segment at Wednesday’s Axios event and added that support for skills based education should be a bi-partisan issue. 

But the left’s involvement in technical education policy may have some conservatives raising their eyebrows since the left’s involvement in colleges and universities have led to poor educational outcomes.  

For instance, professors in the social and hard sciences have been using their research to support social justice claims, including those about gender identity.

During Riley Gaines “Protect Women’s Sports” lecture at the University of Pittsburgh, Professor Gabby Yearwood said that there are no differences between male and female bone structures.

But that claim is untrue. 

As the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History notes, “males tend to have larger, more robust bones and joint surfaces, and more bone development at muscle attachment sites.”

Recent diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies, a staple of leftist politics in recent years, also puts the value of a college degree into question. 

Michigan State University recently called for DEI to be infused into coursework. But DEI-infused curriculum chills innovation and threatens meritocracy.

For example, “[t]he heads of some major institutions such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are boycotting conferences if speakers are not deemed diverse enough,” as previously reported. 

[RELATED: PROF. GIORDANO: Schools are failing students]

Looking at these issues, Higher Education Fellow Nicholas Giordano concluded late last year, that college graduates are unprepared for the workforce. 

“Over the last couple of years, companies have begun to place less emphasis on college degrees and more on technical and interpersonal skills. As four-year institutions continue to push a far-left agenda, students are not learning the practical skills needed in the workplace,” he wrote in the November 2022 op-ed. 

He added, “[s]ince most community colleges are commuter schools, professors and students do not fall victim to the ideological bubble. They do not have time to sit around and have endless debates about radical theories leading to indoctrination.” 

If the left’s involvement in colleges and universities has corrupted those institutions, conservatives may fear that the trades will also become entrenched in leftist orthodoxy if liberals, such as the Secretary, also have their hands in it. 

But in a statement to Campus Reform, Dr. Foxx squashed that concern, saying “Democrats have shown us in the past that they’re willing to put politics aside to work with Republicans on substantive skills-based legislation. It happened in 2014 with the bipartisan SKILLS Act, and I am confident that we will be able to find common ground again.” 

Dr. Foxx concluded: “I agree with Secretary Cardona that getting community colleges and skills-based programs on an equal footing with baccalaureate degree programs is an important part of solving the skills gap in America.”

A DOEd spokesperson also pointed to other initiatives to de-stigmatize career and technical education, citing the Secretary’s Raise the Bar: Unlocking Career Success initiative which will “equip every high school graduate with dual enrollment credits, a career plan for their future, work-based learning experiences, and a workforce credential to provide momentum to complete a postsecondary certificate or degree and enter a good job.”

Campus Reform continues to track updates related to policies that prioritize technical education. 

Follow Jared Gould on Twitter

Editorials and op-eds reflect the opinion of the authors and not necessarily that of Campus Reform or the Leadership Institute.