How Norway reduced the rich-poor earnings gap
By Dwyer Gunn – In the United States, vocational and technical education at the high-school level has long been controversial. Critics argue that vocational schools serve as warehouses for disadvantaged students, depriving them of the opportunity to attend college. Advocates maintain that vocational schools provide valuable labor-market skills and may better serve students who struggle with traditional academics or who can’t or don’t wish to attend college.
In recent years, however, a new vision has emerged, one that emphasizes increasing access to alternative educational models while ensuring that students who choose these pathways can still ultimately pursue higher education. Many states are exploring or have launched high-school apprenticeship programs, and there’s been renewed interest in the Career Academies education model, a 35-year-old approach aimed at restructuring high schools to create alternative pathways that lead to higher education or the workplace.
American reformers may find further inspiration in the results of a 25-year-old overhaul of vocational education in Norway. Research by Chicago Booth’s Marianne Bertrand and Jack Mountjoy, along with University of Chicago’s Magne Mogstad, suggests the reforms helped reduce the eventual earnings gap experienced by poor students, particularly boys, although not without some unintended consequences.
The sweeping changes, known as Reform 94, increased access to apprenticeships and altered the country’s vocational-track high-school degrees to allow graduates to attend college after a semester of supplemental academic courses. Before the changes, students in Norway who obtained vocational-track degrees had to restart high school and secure an academic diploma if they wanted to attend college. more>