Pre­par­ing for global econ­omy es­sen­tial

The Times (Northeast Benton County) - - OPINION - CE­CILE BLED­SOE Arkansas Se­na­tor

LIT­TLE ROCK — Civic and busi­ness lead­ers want to in­crease the num­ber of col­lege grad­u­ates in Arkansas, to pre­pare the state’s young peo­ple for the best jobs be­ing cre­ated in the global econ­omy.

How­ever, mem­bers of the Se­nate Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tee don’t want pol­icy mak­ers to ne­glect the thou­sands of young stu­dents who may not at­tend or fin­ish col­lege. With the idea in mind that not all stu­dents are meant to get a univer­sity de­gree, they have spon­sored leg­is­la­tion to im­prove op­por­tu­ni­ties for high school grad­u­ates and to raise the stan­dards for cour­ses that pre­pare stu­dents for ca­reers.

There are var­i­ous names for the cour­ses, such as vo­ca­tional and tech­ni­cal ed­u­ca­tion. At a re­cent meet­ing of the Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tee, leg­is­la­tors were briefed on the ef­fec­tive­ness of state ef­forts to im­prove ca­reer and tech­ni­cal ed­u­ca­tion (CTE) in pub­lic schools. Although young stu­dents are taught liv­ing skills and the ba­sics of choos­ing a ca­reer, the main fo­cus for CTE is in high schools.

Char­ter schools and pub­lic school dis­tricts spend about $120 mil­lion a year on CTE of­fer­ings. The spe­cific amount is hard to pin down be­cause of the na­ture of CTE classes. Stu­dents some­times take cour­ses at their home cam­pus, but some­times they take classes in fa­cil­i­ties where the costs are shared by sev­eral dis­tricts, ed­u­ca­tional co­op­er­a­tives or lo­cal two-year col­leges.

Fa­cil­i­ties known as Sec­ondary Area Ca­reer Cen­ters serve mul­ti­ple dis­tricts, and of­fer tech­ni­cal cour­ses us­ing equip­ment that is too ex­pen­sive for a sin­gle district, such as au­to­mo­tive lifts. Last year more than 18,600 stu­dents took CTE classes in the cen­ters.

The most pop­u­lar study pro­grams at the ca­reer cen­ters were med­i­cal pro­fes­sions, weld­ing and au­to­mo­tive ser­vice tech­nol­ogy. Of the CTE of­fer­ings that stu­dents took at the home cam­pus of their high school, the most pop­u­lar were a) fam­ily and con­sumer sciences, b) agri­cul­tural power, struc­tural and tech­ni­cal sys­tems and c) dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

One of the chal­lenges of CTE cour­ses is over­com­ing the stigma that tra­di­tion­ally has been at­tached to vo-tech ed­u­ca­tion. A study of the class of 2014, con­ducted by the Ford­ham In­sti­tute, in­di­cates that stu­dents who fo­cused on CTE classes grad­u­ated at a higher rate than the stu­dent body in gen­eral.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from high school, they were more likely to get a job, en­roll in a two-year col­lege and earn higher wages than stu­dents who did not con­cen­trate on CTE.

Ac­cord­ing to sur­veys done by the state Depart­ment of Work­force Ser­vices, the job cat­e­gory in Arkansas that is ex­pected to grow the most for peo­ple with only a high school di­ploma is food prepa­ra­tion and food serv­ing. They in­clude jobs in fast food, restau­rant cooks, as wait­ers and wait­resses and food prepa­ra­tion. The sec­ond-most in de­mand oc­cu­pa­tion will be as re­tail sales­per­sons.

For peo­ple with an as­so­ciate’s de­gree from a two-year col­lege, the most de­mand will be for heavy equip­ment and trac­tor­trailer driv­ers. Sec­ond in de­mand will be for nurs­ing as­sis­tants.

For peo­ple with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree, the high­est de­mand will be for reg­is­tered nurses. The sec­ond most in de­mand cat­e­gory will be gen­eral and op­er­a­tions man­agers.

In Arkansas, 22 per­cent of adults be­tween 25 and 64 have a bach­e­lor’s de­gree. A high school ed­u­ca­tion is the high­est level of ed­u­ca­tion for about half of the pop­u­la­tion of Arkansas.

•••

Editor’s note: Arkansas Se­na­tor Ce­cile Bled­soe rep­re­sents the third district. From Rogers, Sen. Bled­soe is chair of the Pub­lic Health, Wel­fare and La­bor Com­mit­tee.

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