A new Indiana law will ramp up career training and credentialing options for the state’s high schoolers, creating a system that allows more students to gain real work experience before they graduate. 

House Bill 1002 will “establish accounts for students in grades 10-12 to pay for career training outside their schools,” according to Inside Indiana Business. It’s part of a renewed push to help the state’s students access education options that meet their needs. Students who create a graduation plan will be able to access a one-time $5,000 account of career training scholarship funds that can be used to cover the cost of a credential or a work-and-learn program, according to the Indiana Capital Chronicle. 

For too long, college has been thought of as the ultimate post-high school destination for every student, no matter their interests or talents. The myth that college is right for everyone, or that everyone is right for college, has led to many students spending thousands of dollars, and years of their lives, on courses that did not result in a degree or degrees that do not prepare them for the workforce.  

Our culture shows high schoolers a glossy version of what their lives could look like if they go to college. Media from Animal House to Alabama RushTok illustrate a fun and rowdy college life to which younger teens can, and do, aspire. But our culture does little, if anything, to show students there is a second option that can be as good, if not better, for their futures. A job fair or an internship cannot fix the imbalance, but it would be a worthwhile introduction to other options for students who aren’t college-bound. 

These programs aren’t just about telling students they can enter right into the workforce, but about giving them a leg up when they do. An internship or apprenticeship is meaningful work experience that will jump out on a resume, making students who pursue these options more appealing job applicants. Skills-based credentials will become increasingly important because they signify tangible practical abilities. 

Even those students who ARE college-bound will benefit from having access to hands-on work experience. Students will get the chance to “trial run” potential career paths, helping them hone in on what they want to study—and what they don’t. Employers are slowly waking up to the fact that a diploma is not always a signifier of meaningful job skills. This is a necessary reversal of “degree inflation,” in which a job description requires a degree, but actually doing the job does not. America’s young people shouldn’t have to spend thousands of dollars and years of their lives earning degrees just to get a job interview when the degree does not actually help them do the job in question. 

A high school diploma used to prepare someone to enter the workforce. This is no longer true, for two reasons: First, the economy has accelerated from predominantly manufacturing and manual labor jobs to a mix of jobs, many of which require advanced knowledge beyond the high school level. Second, schools have failed to teach a great many students the educational basics. Just because someone graduated high school is no guarantee that he or she has learned to read, write, and do math. 

By contrast, a completed internship or apprenticeship shows that the student has successfully learned the kind of skills a business needs. It shows they have experience in a real-life work environment. A credential earned at a young age gives the bearer’s resume a new layer of meaning. 

Though this Indiana law is aimed at students, it will have the fortunate side effect of benefitting the state’s businesses as well. Many companies are facing a skilled labor shortage, but career and technical education programs like the one Indiana just created will allow companies to “grow their own” future workforces. Tech companies are already embracing this trend by developing workforce development programs of their own.

Indiana’s new program shows that true education freedom is about more than school choice: it’s about opening up pathways for students to learn beyond the walls of a classroom and to develop skills that will serve them for years to come. There is nothing to lose from opening up more opportunities for students, and everything to gain, for students and businesses alike.