An increase in the access to career and technical education courses is making it possible for thousands of Arizona high school students to graduate with the knowledge and skills they need to land jobs that will establish their careers or help them pay their way through college.
These courses, many which can result in professional certification, are a far cry from shop class, and are focused on in-demand fields such as engineering, sports medicine, sustainable energy and software development.
“Career and technical education has changed. It is not vocational education,” said Dr. John Mulcahy, president of Association for Career and Technical Education of Arizona.
In the 2013-14 school year, 94,629 Arizona high school and 123,515 post-secondary students participated in career and technical education, said Jeanne Roberts, deputy associate superintendent of career and technical education with the Arizona Department of Education.
About 19,675 of those Arizona high school students earned two or more credits from a CTE program, and 43,296 of those post-secondary students earned 12 credits, Roberts said.
“Career and technical education is the ticket to staying in school, obtaining a skills and persisting in postsecondary education,” said Mulcahy, also director of professional development for West-MEC, which serves students in northern and western Maricopa County. “It is the ticket to economic independence.”
“Career and technical education is the ticket to staying in school, obtaining a skills and persisting in postsecondary education,” said Dr. John Mulcahy, director of professional development for West-MEC. “It is the ticket to economic independence.”
Providing students an opportunity to earn state- and nationally recognized certification in their field of interest while still in high school can lead to immediate employment after graduation, said Troy Thygerson, superintendent of Gila Institute For Technology, which serves students in Greenlee and part of Graham counties.
“For some, this is a career choice. For others, this is a stepping stone to reach their ultimate career of choice,” Thygerson said. “Students can jump start their college careers through classes, and some of our students earn a two-year associates degree the same year they graduate from high school.”
Today, Western Arizona Vocational Education, which serves students in Mohave and La Paz counties, is opening its first owned and operated central campus in Lake Havasu. The campus will house business and culinary arts programs, said Betsy Parker, superintendent of Western Arizona Vocational Education.
Later this week, West-MEC and Arizona Public Service, in partnership with the City of Buckeye, Estrella Mountain Community College, and Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, will break ground on an Energy Education Center being built in Buckeye.
The center will eventually serve 650 students in 12 to 14 different programs, including sustainable energy, industrial technology, energy programs focused on electrical, mechanical, instrumentation and flow loop applications, STEM, veterinary assisting, auto/transportation, cosmetology/personal services, carpentry, electrical, medical assisting and medical records.
West-MEC, GIFT and WAVE are all a special type of public school district called a JTED, which stands for Joint Technical Education District. In Arizona, a joint technological educational district is a school district that offers high school career and technical education programs to partner school districts. The concept was created in 1990, and there are 14 such districts in Arizona.
The state’s newest JTED in Yuma, the Southwest Technical Education District of Yuma, was approved by Yuma County voters in November. This month it will begin raising awareness for programs it will offer beginning in the 2015-16 chool year by celebrating national Career and Technical Education month with a SkillsUSA regional competition, National Future Farmers of America Week and an expo to help students learn more about the college and career paths available to them.
Why CTE is so important
The value of career and technical education has been the subject of recent educational reports and headlines, for several reasons, Mulcahy said.
“The Great Recession saw record youth unemployment, the likes of which we have not seen since the Great Depression,” Mulcahy said. “As a result, parents, students and even economists are rethinking the type of education — secondary and postsecondary – that students need in order to lead productive lives that enable them to stay on the ‘mobility escalator.’”
With the average college student paying off $29,000 in debt now, parents and students are looking for a better way, Mulcahy said.
“Fifty three percent of American children now come from families that are below the poverty level,” Mulcahy said. “All these folks get that their children must have the skills to enable them to rise to and enjoy the middle class.”
Who takes CTE?
By the 4oth day of this school year, 150,067 Arizona high school students in 110 districts and 229 high schools were enrolled in career and technical education, Roberts said. Some earn the credits through JTEDs and others through their high schools.
Nationally, 94 percent of high school students and 13 million postsecondary students are in career and technical education, which is seen as part of the solution to high school dropout rates, a weakened economy, global competitiveness and massive layoffs.
“Ninety-eight percent of Arizona high school students who earned three or more credits in a single career and technical education program area graduated,” Roberts said. “Ninety-seven percent passed AIMS reading and 89 percent passed AIMS math.”
That’s significantly higher than Arizona’s overall high school graduation rate of 76 percent.
“It takes career and technical education for some students to realize that math and English are important, because they have to find their passion first,” said Matt Weber, superintendent of Northern Arizona Vocational Institute of Technology. “Once students find their passion, then it brings relevance to the academic arena.”
Then students realize, “I’ve got to be able to make an estimate if I’m going to do a job for someone and come out right on the money, and it better be legible and understandable,” said Weber of the program that serves students in southern Navajo, Apache and part of Graham counties.
Appealing to students and parents
It makes more sense for students to take a career and technical education elective than weight training or serve as a teaching assistant, Parker said.
“CTE classes allow students to experience the world of work and industry while also preparing them for college and industry options,” Parker said. “They will never be sorry they took a welding course or a computer course as it is a life skill.”
Parents appreciate that math, English, science and economics are embedded in many CTE classes, Parker said.
“The increased rigor and relevance of the courses keep students in school,” Parker said. “The student organizations promote leadership, entrepreneurship, public speaking and management.”
More than 75 percent of high school students in the region served by WAVE take CTE classes, and that percentage has grown over the past six years, Parker said.
“Many of our students take more than one CTE class because it allows them to experience a wide variety of career options,” Parker said. “Being a rural area, partnering with our local community college increases opportunities.”
Northern Arizona Vocational Institute of Technology students take CTE classes for half a day on the central campus of its partner Northland Pioneer College or in satellite programs at their own high schools, Weber said.
“We have 290 students at the central program campus,” Weber said. “In the satellite programs, about 2,650 high school students take career and technical education at their home high school.”
What’s the lure?
“It’s not uncommon for welding students to be making six-digit salaries within a year of being out of our program,” Weber said. “They finish our program right when they graduate from high school.”
Weber also said one of his daughters is using what she learned in the cosmetology program to help pay her way as she attends Northern Arizona University.
About 1,100 student take career and technical education through Gila Institute of Technology, and participate in career student organizations like HOSA and SkillsUSA where they improve their skills, confidence and compete statewide and nationally against other students, Thygerson said.
Students like “that they can get certified and start earning good money while continuing their career and/or putting themselves through college,” Thygerson said.
“One of our students obtained a Certified Nursing Assistant license during high school and was hired by the local hospital and then as a medical technician with a little additional education,” Thygerson said.
After graduating from the nursing program two years later, the former student was hired as a nurse in the emergency department of that same hospital, Thygerson said.
A fire science student said he landed a job right out of high school, because of the training and licensing he received during CTE, Thygerson said.
“During the fire season, he is fighting fires all over the West,” Thygerson said.
New and in demand CTE programs
Of the 1,900 CTE programs offered in high schools and JTEDs throughout Arizona, new programs like film and TV (80 programs), engineering science (45), sports medicine and rehabilitation services (74), biosciences (23) and nursing (94) are increasing in popularity, Roberts said.
Several programs have remained in demand over time with 53 to 120 programs statewide in culinary arts, cosmetology, automotive technologies, welding technologies, business management and administrative services, and professional sales and marketing, Roberts said.
“Our strong ones over time without question are welding, cosmetology and the nursing assistant programs,” Weber said. “Those are our flagship programs that have been around since the beginning and are still going strong.”
Mechatronics, a new program offered this fall, is drawing a large number of students with its mix of manufacturing, robotics, and instrumentation, Weber said.
“In small rural areas the CTE programs and classes become the electives that are available for students since many of the other programs are being cut due to budget issues,” Thygerson said.
At Gila Institute For Technology, the new industrial electrician program is attracting more students while the more established certified nursing assistant, sports medicine and rehabilitative therapies, computer assisted drafting and design, and cosmetology programs remain strong, Thygerson said.
“It allows students to have direct exposure to hands on experiences and applications in the real world of work, such as the medical laboratory environment, clinicals in actual nursing homes and rehab centers, working in a training hair salon, and evaluating and treating college and high school athletes,” Thygerson said.
New programs at Western Arizona Vocational Education include robotics and engineering, fire science and athletic training, Parker said.
“WAVE works with Mohave/LaPaz Workforce development council to assess the needs of business and industry and provide training,” Parker said.
The most recent example is the certified production technician program which was developed due to the manufacturing and millwright shortage, Parker said.
“We sit with all the chambers in our communities and provide summer work opportunities and internships for the students,” Parker said.
JTEDs all have the same focus and the same goals, “but we may roll out the CTE program differently depending on where we are and what businesses and industries are out there to partner with us,” Weber said
Seventy-one career and technical education programs appear on the approved program list, based on high demand, high skill and high wage occupations, Roberts said. Districts and JTEDs can select programs from the list, Roberts said.
“Arizona CTE is working to increase the number of attainable industry recognized credentials and to increase the number of CTE students that participate in and receive an industry recognized credential,” Roberts said.
Recent legislative support for these efforts include a $1 million legislative budget item for Microsoft IT Academies to pay for 255 Microsoft site licenses, 196 Adobe licenses, 195 Autodesk and 98 Quickbook licenses and well as a $500,000 legislative budget item for JTED Performance pay to be allocated to 13 JTEDs to pay for industry certifications.