중앙데일리

Program lets employed attend university

May 03,2014
President Park Geun-hye talks to students at Seongdong Technical High School, central Seoul, on April 14. At the meeting, Park said vocational high schools have greatly contributed to Korea’s rapid economic development. By Byun Sun-goo
In September 2009, five years after graduating from high school, Ahn So-ra, an employee of a pharmaceutical company, received a phone call from one of her former instructors.

He recommended that she apply for a new government program that would provide her a chance to attend college without quitting her job. “I was so excited after my teacher’s suggestion,” Ahn admitted.

In 2010, the Korean government adopted a new program encouraging vocational high school graduates to work toward a college degree after finding gainful employment. In the program, those who work more than three years at an industrial or financial company qualify to apply to universities that participate in the program.

Ahn entered Sungdug Girls’ Commercial High School after receiving a scholarship, but even then the money was tight for her family, who could barely afford her brother’s college tuition. But after she got a job, she found herself shut out for being the only one in her family without a bachelor’s degree.

“It was distressing sometimes to be working but not have a college degree,” she said. “One of my senior [co-workers] who also didn’t have a degree worked for more than 20 years in the company and never got promoted past a certain point.”

Following her teacher’s advice, Ahn gained admission to the department of advanced industry fusion at Konkuk University. However, her employer refused to reschedule her office hours, which would have allowed her to attend night classes after work.

“The team leader refused to let me leave the office two hours earlier than my usual quitting time,” she said. “He was afraid if other employees without a college degree did as I had, he would have to allow them to leave early, too.”

From left: Ahn So-ra, Gwon Yong-hui, Park A-reum
Without any options left, she finished her four-year college courses only after she moved to Sooin Pharm, her current workplace. Over those four years, Ahn received scholarship money 13 times and was given the dean’s award when she graduated in February.

Konkuk University, Chung-Ang University and Kongju National University were the first schools to join the government’s program, in which only an applicant’s high school records and the results of the interview are taken into account. About 68 four-year universities and 18 two-year colleges will participate in the government program starting 2015.

“I don’t regret my choice to get a job before going to college,” said Gwon Yong-hui, another graduate from the department of advanced industry fusion at Konkuk University. “I don’t think it’s necessary to go to college right after graduating high school.”

Gwon applied for a college degree a year after she got a job at a well-paying company. She applied for the program immediately after its implementation. She also prepared for the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) after desperately feeling the need to study business administration and marketing.

Students like Ahn and Gwon broke the social stereotype that students should attend college immediately after their high school graduation and that only students with college degrees can get better jobs.

The government expects the new policy to change societal expectations by emphasizing a person’s working ability over his or her educational background. However, there are still a few aspects of the program that need improvement. “It would have been better if the night school curriculum included practical content,” said one graduate who participated in the program. “It pretty much exactly copied the material used in the daytime class.”

But one of the program’s crucial elements is that it requires support from the companies and businesses with which it partners, and employers must let their workers attend night classes by allowing them to leave work earlier or split the night duties.

“Thanks to the company’s support, I could graduate college without difficulty,” said Park A-reum, another graduate and chief of Hansol Paper’s exporting team. “I got promoted very quickly after graduation by utilizing the skills I learned in college.”

BY KIM SUNG-TAK [enational@joongang.co.kr]




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