It's no secret that many Routt County high school graduates never pursue four-year degrees. It's also no secret that some local students leave their respective high schools without receiving a diploma.
So we found it encouraging that nearly three dozen local education, government and business officials gathered last week in Steamboat Springs to discuss expanding vocational opportunities for youths in Routt and Moffat counties.
The goal of the meeting was clear: to discuss the vocational education opportunities in the Yampa Valley and how local entities can collaborate to expand and enhance the programs in place.
Local high schools and two-year colleges have a sturdy foundation on which to build. Steamboat Springs High School offers a variety of business, computer and technology classes and plans to add others next year. The South Routt School District has a successful agriculture program in which nearly a quarter of the high school's 135 students participate. In Hayden, the high school offers vocational classes including welding, auto mechanics, cabinet making and computer certification.
Craig's Moffat County High School offers classes in accounting, business law, computer applications, culinary arts and early childhood development. Additional vocational opportunities are available through courses offered by Colorado Mountain College and Colorado Northwestern Community College.
Pooling these resources seems to be the best way to provide students in Routt and Moffat counties with options that interest them and provide a path to successful careers.
"The concept is we really have to provide post-secondary opportunities for all students," Steamboat Superintendent Donna Howell said. "High school is not enough for anyone."
But obstacles exist to establishing a system in which students from various districts can attend vocational classes at neighboring schools.
Territorialism among districts and schools typically is the biggest challenge, Howell said. And funding always is an issue.
Some parents could provide obstacles, too.
"We have socialized parents to believe you have to have a four-year degree," Howell said. "Too many parents believe that a college degree is the only path to success for their children."
That simply isn't the case. Skilled-labor jobs don't require degrees and often pay significantly better than jobs in the service and retail sectors. With skilled job training, more of our young people could remain in the valley, earning the kind of money needed to live here comfortably.
With planning, collaboration and a commitment to expanding vocational education options to students throughout the valley, our school districts can and should do more to provide vocational education and training for students who don't go on to four-year colleges and universities.
We're encouraged by the steps taken last week, and we urge school, government and business leaders to work toward a plan that would better the futures for many of our children and provide skilled workers for our local economies.