When it comes to encouraging high school students to pursue post-secondary studies in vocational programs such as HVACR, the fall guys for failure to do so are usually the high school counselors. Why do they push four-year colleges for graduates who might not be four-year college material? Why can’t they promote vocational programs for students who might do very well in such programs?

Well, it just might be the blame rests not with the counselors but with those who are telling the counselors what to push and promote.

The Four-Year College Expectation

In some — not all — instances, upper-level high school personnel as well as members of the community take pride in having a high percentage of students go on to a four-year institution or to a two-year community college with the idea of transferring to a four-year school to complete a bachelor’s degree.

In some — not all — cases, failure to keep that percentage at an extremely high level is a sign of failure on the part of the school, the principal, the superintendent, the board, and the community.

I’m not sure why that is so important. I am an early generation baby boomer and quite often we came from parents who did not have the opportunity to go to college, so having us go to college was important to them. We early boomers may have passed that onto our children — the Gen Xers — who are now raising children of high school and college age. And it seems the expectations are still there.

School boards are easily influenced by community sentiment, so they expect the paid staff to deliver on that four-year college focus.

Administrators follow the directive of the school board, and they have their own competitive component among fellow academia. You can bet they compare with other high schools their graduation rates and how many of those graduates go on with the intention of getting at least a bachelor’s degree.

This is not a blanket situation. There are many high schools that realize the value of vocational training and in fact have exceptional programs in that regard — even if there are grandchildren of baby boomers who still call it “shop” as we did.

Two-year community colleges also understand the need for both vocational training and preparation for going onto four-year schools. So they will offer high-quality vocational programs such as HVACR, as well as many others, along with a two-year track that allows a smooth transition to a four-year college with entry to that college as a junior.

(And when it comes to vocational, kudos also go to the outstanding strictly vocational schools throughout the country; just as credit goes to colleges that have vocational programs and related degrees).

Getting Involved at All Levels

The point I’m making is that high school counselors should not necessarily be among the ones that the HVACR industry blames when it bemoans the lack of qualified technicians entering the industry. Blame should be aimed at a higher level.

And, frankly, if the blame reaches the higher administrative levels, perhaps it is important that those in the HVACR industry find ways to get involved in their local high school’s advisory committees. If that’s not possible, just get involved in some way with the high school. Anything from presenting at career nights to working the concession stand at a football game will show you care about what is happening in the school. And you can demonstrate that you happen to know a good career option for students.

If the mindset of “four-year college or bust” has spread through your community, then it may be a good idea to run for the school board to provide even more valuable input.

In the end, you may make the life of a high school counselor a bit better.

Publication date: 01/09/2012