NO PUBLICATION HAS EVER RANKED THE SCHOOLS WHERE MILLIONS OF AMERICANS SEEK JOB SKILLS. UNTIL NOW.
Earlier this year, Donald Trump said this to a group of Republican lawmakers: "Today you have community colleges and you have all of the--when I was growing up we had vocational schools ... You learn mechanical, you learn bricklaying and carpentry and all of these things. We don't have that very much anymore. And I think the word 'vocational' is a much better word than in many cases a community college. A lot of people don't know what a community college means or represents."
Donald Trump says a lot of ignorant things. But in this case he was reflecting a blind spot common among American elites. For all the talk in political and policy circles about the need for skilled workers, most members of the leadership class have no real concept of how millions of working-class Americans actually get the skills they need for better jobs.
The answer is that they primarily do so by earning vocational certificates. These are credentials that typically take a year or so to get and provide job skills to work in particular fields--say, as a dental assistant, an auto mechanic, or, yes, a bricklayer. And they are mostly provided by, you guessed it, community colleges (for-profit schools are the second biggest purveyor, and private nonprofit colleges are a distant third).
None of this is news to members of the working class who rely on these credentials to get ahead in life. On average, certificate holders earn about 20 percent more per year than those with just a high school degree, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. And while the president seems to think vocational education is in decline, the number of such certificates awarded has, in fact, been climbing for years, from about 566,000 in 1998-99 to about 1.06 million in 2013-14, the latest year for which federal data is available.
In a way, Trump's duelessness is understandable. The major media outlets, Fox News included, seldom cover community colleges, preferring to focus on the elite four-year schools that most journalists themselves attended. U.S. News & World Report doesn't even bother to rank community colleges.
The Washington Monthly is different. We were the first publication to rank America's best community colleges, back in 2007 (we did so again in 2009, 2010, and 2013). Other outlets have since followed suit. But all those rankings are based on two-year...