Desks in a classroom.
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Trump falsely claims we’ve ‘replaced’ vocational schools with community colleges

At an event in Ohio earlier this year, which was ostensibly supposed to be about infrastructure, Donald Trump strayed from his script to share some thoughts about education.

“I don’t know what that means, a community college,” the president told the audience. “Call it vocational and technical. People know what that means. They don’t know what a community college means.”

At a White House event yesterday, Trump added fresh criticisms of community colleges for reasons that were difficult to understand. From the official transcript:

“You know, when I was growing up, we had vocational schools. Today you have community college. I’m trying to say, ‘Well, a community college – what do they teach? English and Latin and – what are they teaching?’ The old days, we had vocational schools. And I’d go to school with people who knew – weren’t necessarily good students, but they could go outside after school hours and take away a car engine, take apart electric motors, take apart their – and nobody else – the best student in the class didn’t even know what they’re doing. They had no clue. But they were great at that, and that’s what they liked to do.

“And we’ve gotten rid of vocational schools and we’ve replaced them with community colleges. We need vocational schools. It’s great money.”

It’s tempting to think the sitting U.S. president, after nearly two years in office, would have some base-level understanding of the fact that community colleges and vocational schools (a) aren’t the same thing; and (b) both still exist.

But these details elude Donald Trump.

The Washington Post had this report in February, after related criticisms of community colleges from the president.

Trump may think the word “vocational” is a better way to describe a community college – but, in fact, the two are not interchangeable. They simply aren’t the same thing.

Vocational, or trade schools, have traditionally offered hands-on training related to a particular career, often but not exclusively in high school. The length of vocational programs varies, and they usually require internships.

Two-year community colleges provide many of the same features as four-year colleges, including wide curricular offerings in different subjects and, sometimes, clubs and sports events. Many students get a two-year community college degree – with a core curriculum – and then transfer to a four-year college for a bachelor’s degree. They can save a lot of money along the way, because community colleges are inexpensive compared to four-year schools.

In Trump’s mind, “we’ve gotten rid of vocational schools.” I have no idea why he thinks that, but we’ve done no such thing.

Donald Trump and Education Policy

Trump falsely claims we've 'replaced' vocational schools with community colleges