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Leaders should highlight the benefits of 2-year vocational education

For too long, success for our kids has been defined only as attending a four-year university after high school.

As Americans and Minnesotans, we do need to make things again, and we need leaders who are focused on making that happen.
REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

My youngest son is a junior in high school and is in the midst of that difficult decision about what happens after he graduates next year. He has many great options before him, but there is clearly an assumption amongst most of those at his school and many of the people we know: If he wants to be successful, he needs to choose the path of a four-year college degree.

Jeff Johnson

That assumption — so common in Minnesota today — is simply wrong. 

For too long, success for our kids has been defined only as attending a four-year university after high school. While going to a four-year college is certainly a great plan for some kids, it’s not what’s best for others. This path should not be the only definition of success and there should never be a stigma surrounding those choosing vocational or technical training, apprenticeship programs or military service.

A tremendous need for skilled workers

In fact, we should be celebrating and congratulating those kids who are not bowing to societal pressure and are making a decision that is best for them and is serving a great need in our state.

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We have a tremendous need for skilled workers in Minnesota — a helpful reality when the purpose is to earn a living. Usually these degrees are earned in two years as opposed to four or six, so earning an income starts sooner, graduates avoid the crushing student loan debt that currently haunts millions, the starting salaries for skilled trades are often much higher than for four-year college graduates, and finding a job is almost immediate.

So what can we do about it?

As a small-government conservative, I don’t believe the answer is a new spending program, although there is much that state government can do to connect our colleges, vocational schools and high schools with the business community to make certain our kids are learning the skills that will lead to successful careers. And I believe we should direct more student aid dollars to kids to use in the marketplace of higher education rather than to institutions to dole out as they see fit.

More important, however, a governor should use the bully pulpit to change this misguided attitude in Minnesota that a four-year degree is the best path to success for all of our kids. I will partner with vocational and technical schools across the state, hold events on their campuses and highlight the many amazing success stories of individual students.

Important to students and our communities

At the core of this issue is an economic reality: As Americans and Minnesotans, we do need to make things again, and we need leaders who are focused on making that happen. Having a governor committed to removing this inaccurate assumption about our kids and highlighting the many great options available to high school graduates will help our young people, help our communities, and ensure that Minnesotans will have the skills to succeed and strengthen our state.

The heartbeat of our economy must continue to be skilled trades, manufacturing, mining and farming. And, contrary to what others may think, that heartbeat is a human one — not a machine or a robot. As governor, I will ensure our kids and our communities know that success is defined by hard work and the pride that comes with it — regardless of what kind of work you do or where you went to school.

Jeff Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner, is a candidate for governor.

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