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Can Brazil Teach Us How to Get Over Our Vocational Education Snobbery?

With the economy being what it is, it's time for us to get over our antiquated ideas of career prestige.


During my college years, I spent a lot of time with two plumbers named Mario and Luigi. But, like many of my peers who enjoyed hanging out with the two Nintendo video game superstars, I didn't see their careers as something prestigious, nor something to aspire to. Even nowadays with so many people hunting for work, government economists predict that over the next decade we'll have faster than average job growth for plumbers—and a good many other "trade" professions—but we often still look down upon vocational careers. Can't you just hear modern parents saying, "You want to be a plumber (or insert any vocational job)? You can do better than that." But it's time for us to get over our snobbery, especially with the economy being what it is. It turns out that Brazil is making a serious investment in vocational education, and their approach is one we can learn from.

Brazil had to tackle vocational education head-on since their growing oil and gas industries have increased demand for "skilled professionals, including welders, electricians, builders, and information-technology specialists." There's also been a boom in infrastructure projects so that "roads, airports, stadiums and accommodations will be ready for the 2016 Olympics and the 2014 World Cup." So over the past decade, the Brazilian government has boosted vocational education funding from $385 million to $3.8 billion. Except—and this is important when worrying about career prestige—they don't call it vocational education anymore. Brazil calls it "professional" education, and the schools are called technical institutes.

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A College Degree in Three Years? Why America Needs to Get on Board

Three-year degree programs save money and help students get on with their lives, but American students aren't signing up. They should be.

You'd think that given the spiraling cost of college, American students would jump at the chance to finish up school in three years instead of the typical four. With a three-year accelerated degree, parents have to fork over less cash for tuition and room and board, the family's loan burden is lighter, and students can get on with their career plans earlier. How does this not make sense? But despite the best efforts of both public and private universities to promote accelerated programs, students are sticking with the four-year college tradition. That's too bad because a three-year degree is a smart idea that we should be adopting.

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