Stature of Technical Colleges RaisedA great change is occurring in the status of technical colleges. Some 84 out of 158, more than half of all the technical colleges in the country, have decided to compete head to head with general colleges for students. They are planning to receive applications for the 2001 school year and administer enrollment procedures at the same time as general colleges, including a number of prestigious universities. Their decision reflects the enhanced status of two-year technical colleges, the Korean equivalent of community colleges in the United States, and it shows the process of their development as contributing to the improvement of the college entrance system.
The enhanced stature of technical colleges is in line with the vision of the 21st century as the ''age of specialists.'' The recent change is due, to a considerable extent, to the state of the national economy and the difficulties that many young people are having finding jobs. As college students are suffering from poor employment prospects, the incidence of students taking a leave of absence or entering military service before graduating from college is increasing, with more than half a million cases reported this year. At the same time, technical colleges boast an employment rate among graduates of over 90 percent.
Technical colleges, however, still have a lot to do to adjust to the new situation. There are some technical colleges that lack credibility. To transform themselves into real centers of learning, technical schools should increase investments in faculty, equipment, and curriculum.
Courses at technical schools should not be restricted to the two-year length. They could be extended to three years or longer, depending on the requirements of individual fields. More courses could be offered in areas that graduates will find employment. In many technical schools in Italy, fashion design and textile design are taught as three-year courses. Even if some technical school programs are lengthened to four years, they will not overlap with courses at general colleges if they offer different curriculum.
We hope that technical schools become reliable educators of Korea''s specialized technical workforce. They will earn their reputations based on the performance of their students as they enter the workforce. Support from the government and society is necessary for the realization of this goal, as is a willingness on the part of technical colleges to make the effort for such a transformation to take place.