Officials at Northeast State Community College and the Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Elizabethton say students are discovering new paths to careers through vocational and technical training, and getting ahead in high school by taking college courses helps students in that.
At Northeast State, many of these students are continuing their academic path by taking college-credit courses. Last semester, 106 Science Hill students took English courses at the Johnson City facility.
But some stayed at Science Hill High School’s College, Career and Technical Education program to obtain other credit hours ahead of their post-secondary education. They were looking for more hands-on experience in much of these vocational and technical courses.
“We’ve got alignment with Northeast State and TCAT-Elizabethton. We have 12 classes we align with, whether its welding, computing, engineering, early childhood and business, and that gives them credits to move forward into post-secondary schools,” Julia Decker, director of the Science Hill program, said.
This coordination between public schools and local post-secondary schools in vocational and technical courses is essential to filling a critical need for comprehensive job training throughout the region and state, according to Dr. Jeff McCord, Northeast State’s vice president for economic and workforce development.
Though the National Federation of Independent Business recently said the state’s education system needs to put more emphasis on workforce training in high school, officials at local colleges have been working with secondary educators to do just that.
There are, however, some challenges associated with the growth of vocational education, according to Decker.
“We still have parents who think vocational is for less-fortunate students,” Decker said.
Dean Blevins, president of TCAT-Elizabethton, said more and more students are finding different ways to pursue their educational goals. The college enrolled about 500 students in the fall 2017 trimester, but said parents tend to equate “doing better” with a four-year degree, which can contribute to a reluctance to pursue a vocational or technical career path.
“The reality is that a student can come here to the TCAT from high school, complete a 12-month program, graduate debt-free and leave here and get a job with a starting salary of between $40,000 and $60,000,” Blevins said.
Blevins added that just because a student chooses to go to a four-year university or a vocational school like TCAT doesn’t negate options for educational opportunities in the future. Some students with four-year degrees come to TCAT for other job training, and vice versa.
“Something we are seeing more of, students attending the college already have four-year and advanced degrees,” he said. “These students have decided to come back to a technical college to get technical training and a better-paying job.”
Despite those challenges, both Decker and McCord said they work to identify the needs of regional industries to offer the best career courses they can to students and prepare them for the workforce.
“By focusing on meeting the needs of our current employers, developing a pipeline of skilled workers, and integrating with state and regional economic development organizations, we seek to promote prosperity for our students, citizens, and communities,” McCord said of technical training at Northeast State. “We see workforce development and economic development as two sides of the same coin.”
In addition to partnering with schools like Science Hill, McCord said it is important to collaborate with local businesses and industries to more accurately identify regional workforce development needs and establish apprenticeship programs that provide opportunities for hands-on work experience.
“All of this doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” McCord said of regional workforce and economic development. “It takes collaborative partnerships between and among business and industry, K-12 systems, community leaders, local and state government and higher education. A recent example of such collaboration is the development of Northeast State’s apprenticeship programs.”