Shop is win­dow of op­por­tu­ni­ties

Stu­dents find niche in tech and hands-on school pro­grams

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST - By Monte Wha­ley

The old shop classes in Colorado schools that in­cluded drill bits, lum­ber and T-squares have mor­phed into a place where ro­bot­ics, vir­tual real­ity and wind power are be­ing taught.

More and more stu­dents are flock­ing to these cour­ses dur­ing high school and af­ter, lured by state-ofthe-art tech­nol­ogy, low tu­ition and se­cure fu­ture job prospects.

Af­ter a drop from 2009 to 2012, en­roll­ment in ca­reer and tech­ni­cal ed­u­ca­tion cour­ses has surged, with more than 125,000 high school­ers and 20,000 mid­dle school­ers en­rolling in 2015. In all, a record 181,000 Colorado stu­dents were en­rolled in CTE cour­ses, a na­tional cur­ricu­lum with seeds in vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion cour­ses.

Of­fi­cials pre­dict en­roll­ment will con­tinue to in­crease as more par­ents and guid­ance coun­selors see the value of a non­tra­di­tional route to get a col­lege de­gree or pro­fes­sional cer­tifi­cate. And state law­mak­ers re­al­ize the need, al­lot­ting $500,000 in 2015 to help the pro­grams by cre­at­ing a “ta­lent pipe­line.”

These days, CTE cour­ses span agri­cul­ture, skilled trades, busi­ness mar­ket­ing, crim­i­nal jus­tice, culi­nary arts, fash­ion de­sign and Sci­ence, Tech­nol­ogy, En­ergy and Math, or STEM.

“This is not your grand­dad’s vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion,” said Sarah Heath, state di­rec­tor/as­sis­tant provost for CTE in the Colorado Com­mu­nity Col­lege Sys­tem.

A lot of these stu­dents en­ter into a mar­ket­place des­per­ate for work­ers. As many as 16,000 ad­vanced man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs go un­filled each year and most re­quire highly skilled work­ers, ex­perts say.

To that end, 84 per­cent of high school­ers who fin­ish CTE cour­ses had jobs within a year, while 94 per­cent of all CTE fin­ish­ers ob­tained a job, Heath said.

Start­ing salaries de­pend on the job, but high school grad­u­ates with a me­chan­i­cal main­te­nance de­gree can start at $29,000 an­nu­ally and go up to $83,000, CTE of­fi­cials say.

Aims Com­mu­nity Col­lege in­struc­tor Mike Hanscome, who teaches au­to­mo­tive cour­ses, says the school’s bul­letin board is filled with help­wanted post­ings from body shops, gen­eral garages and deal­er­ships.

“A lot of the time they call us and say, ‘Send us what you got,’ ”

This is not your grand­dad’s vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion.” Sarah Heath, state di­rec­tor/as­sis­tant provost for CTE in the Colorado Com­mu­nity Col­lege Sys­tem

Hanscome said.

CTE cour­ses can land stu­dents in the work­force im­me­di­ately or form the ba­sis of a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in a higher-earn­ing ca­reer such as en­gi­neer­ing, Heath said.

Post-se­condary ed­u­ca­tion “does not al­ways mean a four-year de­gree but also un­der­stand­ing that CTE pro­grams like busi­ness and pre-en­gi­neer­ing can lead to fouryear de­gree pro­grams,” Heath said. “It de­pends on the stu­dent’s goals and plans.”

Many CTE cour­ses are con­cur­rent, mean­ing high school stu­dents can earn col­lege cred­its. En­roll­ment in these classes is at an all-time high af­ter a roller coaster ride in the years af­ter the Great Re­ces­sion.

By last year, 38 per­cent of all en­rolled stu­dents in Colorado se­condary schools, or 125,182, took at least one CTE course, an all-time high, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials. Those num­bers were up from 120,702 in 2013-14 and con­tinue an up­ward trend in CTE en­roll­ment af­ter dip­ping to 112,427 in 2011-12.

Post-se­condary en­roll­ment was also up in 2014-15, with 34,829 stu­dents. Only 201213 boasted a higher en­roll­ment, 34,893.

The most pop­u­lar cer­tifi­cate pro­grams for high school stu­dents are for nurses aides, weld­ing, au­to­mo­tive tech­nol­ogy and cos­me­tol­ogy, Heath said.

For pure value, it’s hard to beat many ca­reerand tech­ni­cal-ori­ented cour­ses, pro­po­nents of tech­ni­cal ed­u­ca­tion say.

Stu­dents at Aims Com­mu­nity Col­lege, for in­stance, haven’t faced a tu­ition hike in six years. Those who live in the tax­ing dis­trict around the Gree­ley-based school pay $2,021 a year for 30 credit hours, Aims spokes­woman Laura Coale said.

Weld County, mean­while, pro­vides res­i­dents with up to $3,000 a year for four years to use to­ward ed­u­ca­tion, Coale said.

By con­trast, tu­ition for two semesters at the Uni­ver­sity of Colorado at Boul­der for in-state res­i­dents pur­su­ing an un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree in busi­ness is $31,745; for en­gi­neer­ing, it’s $30,065.

Re­cent col­lege grad­u­ates are also spend­ing 18 per­cent of their cur­rent salaries on stu­dent loan pay­ments, and 60 per­cent of grad­u­ates un­der the age of 35 now ex­pect to be pay­ing off stu­dent loans into their 40s, ac­cord­ing to Cit­i­zens Bank.

Most of the cred­its earned in CTE cour­ses can be trans­ferred to other Colorado col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties through agree­ments worked out with those in­sti­tu­tions, Heath said.

Aims is part of the state’s 13-col­lege com­mu­nity col­lege sys­tem, which is at the fore­front of CTE pro­gram­ming in Colorado. Aims, like the other schools, tries to meet the needs of the com­mu­nity by of­fer­ing cour­ses that can be use­ful in the job mar­ket upon grad­u­a­tion or help boost skills needed at a four-year in­sti­tu­tion, Aims pres­i­dent Leah Born­stein said.

“We em­brace our role,” she said. “We pretty much of­fer ev­ery­thing for ev­ery­body.”

Aims pro­vides other sweet­en­ers for stu­dents. Once they fin­ish the col­lege’s au­to­mo­tive pro­gram, they get more than $7,000 worth of new tools to take with them.

“Our part­ner­ship with Snap-On tools is re­ally ex­cit­ing,” Born­stein said. “It’s re­ally unique, but it’s an­other won­der­ful as­pect of that pro­gram.”

The au­to­mo­tive pro­gram at Aims is ideal for 21-year-old Grant Kennedy, who mulled sev­eral ca­reer op­tions while in high school.

“I thought about be­ing a doc­tor or lawyer, but I al­ways liked to tinker with cars,” he said. “So I de­cided to come to Aims and see what they of­fered in that area.”

Kennedy got his cer­tifi­cate in col­li­sion re­pair and is fin­ish­ing work in his paint­ing and re­fin­ish­ing cer­tifi­cate. He fig­ures he will work in a garage for a while and then start his own body shop busi­ness.

“That’s some­thing I couldn’t do work­ing in an of­fice, start­ing out on my own and do­ing what I like and see­ing where it takes me,” Kennedy said.

Colorado is back­ing the CTE cause in sev­eral ways. Law­mak­ers in 2015 passed leg­is­la­tion to cre­ate a “ta­lent pipe­line” to quickly train and get stu­dents into high­de­mand in­dus­tries. The leg­is­la­ture al­lo­cated nearly $500,000 to the state’s Depart­ment of La­bor and Em­ploy­ment to help im­ple­ment the pro­gram.

The bill’s co-spon­sor, state Rep. Alec Gar­nett, said some stu­dents want a dif­fer­ent ca­reer path not of­fered in a tra­di­tional class­room. In­stead, they can use their tech­ni­cal skills to fill needed jobs with­out be­ing bur­dened by huge col­lege debt, Gar­nett said.

“Things are dif­fer­ent now,” he said. “Stu­dents want a menu of op­tions and when they step out of the post-se­condary world into those jobs that pay well and they can do the tra­di­tional things like raise a fam­ily and own a nice home.”

Colorado’s Teacher of the Year, mean­while, is a for­mer English teacher who now teaches game pro­gram­ming at Wil­liam J. Palmer High School in Colorado Springs. Sean Wy­brant said he switched to teach­ing CTE cour­ses be­cause they seemed more topi­cal for his stu­dents.

“CTE is a nat­u­ral fit for rel­e­vancy,” Wy­brant said. “It is what’s go­ing on in the in­dus­try right now and what’s go­ing on in so­ci­ety around them.”

His stu­dents are de­vel­op­ing ed­u­ca­tional games to teach younger kids about frac­tions and pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive num­bers. Wy­brant, who con­sid­ers him­self a writer, said lit­er­a­ture cer­tainly has a place in every cur­ricu­lum. “But what we are do­ing here couldn’t hap­pen in any other place,” he said.

Far­ther north, Mead En­ergy Academy is en­joy­ing a 40 per­cent en­roll­ment jump over 2015. There are 80 stu­dents — 15 per­cent of whom are se­niors — in the class.

The academy started last year af­ter part­ner­ing with Anadarko Petroleum Cor­po­ra­tion for stu­dents in­ter­ested in all facets of en­ergy devel­op­ment. The stu­dents do hands-on ex­am­i­na­tion of wind, so­lar, and oil and gas devel­op­ment.

That in­cludes class­room ex­per­i­ments as well as tours of lo­cal oil and gas fields and so­lar and wind fa­cil­i­ties.

“We wanted our kids ex­posed to a va­ri­ety of ex­perts in the in­dus­try,” said Jackie Ka­push­ion, as­sis­tant su­per­in­ten­dent for the St. Vrain Val­ley School Dis­trict.

The course work, she said, will pre­pare stu­dents for col­lege stud­ies, tech­ni­cal ed­u­ca­tion, cer­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­grams and the work­force. “We want to make sure they don’t grad­u­ate from high school and won­der what’s next,” she said.

A class re­cently was an­a­lyz­ing low-level nu­clear ra­di­a­tion mea­sure­ments un­der the guid­ance of teacher Will Pratt.

“It’s def­i­nitely a lot more fun than sit­ting down in class­room and just tak­ing notes,” said 17-year-old Jack­son LeMasters, who wants to study mar­ket­ing in col­lege.

LeMasters hopes to use what he learns in the academy to un­der­stand the busi­ness side of en­ergy devel­op­ment.

Class­mate Ken­nolyn Peter­son said she wants to study wind power: “I think I want to change the world a lit­tle bit.”

Zoe Pat­tiani, 18, gets a lit­tle hung up try­ing to re­move a win­dow from a car door panel in the garage at Aims Com­mu­nity Col­lege Au­to­mo­tive and Tech­nol­ogy Cen­ter in Wind­sor. Joe Amon, The Den­ver Post

RJ San­gosti, The Den­ver Post

Jay Ol­son, a stu­dent at Mead High School, takes a class at Mead En­ergy Academy. The pro­gram is en­joy­ing a 40 per­cent en­roll­ment jump over 2015. There are 80 stu­dents — 15 per­cent of whom are se­niors — in the class. The academy started last year af­ter part­ner­ing with Anadarko Petroleum Cor­po­ra­tion for stu­dents in­ter­ested in all facets of en­ergy devel­op­ment. The stu­dents do hands-on ex­am­i­na­tion of wind, so­lar, and oil and gas devel­op­ment.

Four peo­ple help hobby stu­dent John Wood­ward, 70, fore­ground, load his 1935 Austin 7 onto a trailer in the garage at Aims Com­mu­nity Col­leger in Wind­sor on Dec. 6. Joe Amon, The Den­ver Post

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