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Editorial: Rowan needs a new kind of prep school

After years of pushing more students to pursue four-year college degrees, school systems across the country are learning the limits of that approach. America needs more tradespeople.

Welders. Plumbers. Construction workers and more.

It’s fine to prepare students for the many jobs that require a four-year degree — and more lower-income students deserve access to those opportunities. But success can be found along other routes, too.

Wisely, the Rowan-Salisbury school system is doing preliminary work toward developing a technical high school. School officials must be careful not to develop a proposal that’s pricier than what the system can afford.

The tech-school model under discussion would stretch far beyond the shop and home-ec classes of days gone by. This school would give students a head start in fields such as advanced manufacturing, architecture and construction, automotive technology, culinary arts, computer and network engineering, global logistics, nursing, biotechnology and public safety.

If many of these areas of study sound like courses students might study in community college, they are. Technical high school is not meant to provide all the training a student might need to get into some of these advanced fields, but it could give students a start in a field. More studies or training would probably be needed, but not exclusively the sort available at four-year colleges and universities.

Some 30 million jobs in the United States pay an average of $55,000 a year and don’t require a bachelor’s degree, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. In North Carolina, a center report says, the fastest occupational growth through 2020 will be in health care (27 percent), community services and arts (19 percent), management (19 percent) and STEM (19 percent).

There’s consensus among school officials, the school board and community leaders that a tech school is needed, but in a system that’s building a new West elementary school and needs to replace Knox Middle School, funding for yet another school is a tall order. The system projects high costs — between $7 million and nearly $18 million to get a tech school up and running. The lower end of that range would require converting an existing building, and the school system has plenty of those. And what about the county’s West End Plaza?

Moving forward is imperative. As school board Chairman Josh Wagner said, “This is not just a school system thing, this is a countywide thing. It’s a big deal for us.” Indeed it is.

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