Despite a competitive economy in which success increasingly depends on obtaining a college degree, one in four students in this country does not even finish high school in the usual four years.
Matthew Kelly was in danger of becoming one of them.
Tests showed he had a high intellect, but Kelly skipped homework and was barely passing some of his classes in his early years of high school. He was living in a motel part of the time and both his parents were out of work. His mother, a former nurse, feared that Matthew had so little interest he would drop out without graduating.
Then his guidance counselor suggested he take some courses at a nearby vocational academy for his junior year. For the first time, the teenager excelled, earning A’s and B’s in subjects like auto repair, electronics and metals technology. “When it comes to practicality, I can do stuff really well,’’ said Kelly, now 19.
So well, that he has earned a scholarship to attend a community college this fall. He even talks of pursuing a bachelor’s degree in engineering some day, and opening his own business.
Now, federal funding to provide such vocational and technical education is at risk. President Obama has instead made it a priority to raise overall academic standards and college graduation rates, and aims to shrink the small amount of federal spending for vocational training in public high schools and community colleges. That aid comes primarily in the form of Perkins grants to states.