College or Career and Technical Education? It's a False Choice

Some high school students with trade skills are still choosing to get college degrees as well as work in their trade.

by Kelli Weir, The Repository, Canton, Ohio / March 29, 2017 0
Shutterstock

(TNS) -- MASSILLON, Ohio — The seniors in the dental assisting program at R.G. Drage Career Technical Center all have learned the basic dental laboratory and X-ray procedures, the terminology, as well as how to prepare the many instruments and dental materials so they can work with a dentist in treating patients.

But how each student plans to use those skills — and their Ohio Dental Assistant Certification, Ohio Radiology Certification, CPR and first aid certification and bloodborne pathogen certificate — after they graduate runs the gamut. For example:

Ava Radel, Natalie Skeems and Madyson Nofsinger plan to expand on their dental assisting licenses by attending college.

Radal plans to attend a four-year program at West Liberty University, where she hopes to earn a degree and eventually become a dentist. Skeems and Nofsinger both plan to enroll in two-year colleges to become dental hygienists. Skeems has set her sights on Stark State College, while Nofsinger hasn't selected a college yet.

Olivia Klever wants to use her dental skills to find a job in a local dentist office while she takes a year off from school. Klever said she wants to use the break to figure out whether she wants to go to college, and, if so, whether she wants to further her dental training or pursue a degree to become a physician's assistant.

Keyonna Marvin may use her dental assisting skills to springboard into a different career path altogether. Marvin wants to eventually become a lawyer, but isn't ready to return to the classroom right away.

"I don't want to come out of school and go right back to school," she said.

Their varying post-high school responses illustrate how far career technical education has evolved over its 100-year history. R.G. Drage and Ohio's other 90 career technical planning districts celebrated the former vocational agriculture training program's centennial on Feb. 23. More than 2,000 Stark County students attend career tech classes at R.G. Drage or one of the five career technical planning districts in Stark County.

Evolution

The Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 developed vocational training to address a lack of skilled workers in agriculture, trade and manufacturing. It also sought to prepare workers for an economy that would become rapidly industrialized.

Dan Murphy, director of R.G. Drage, said career technical centers still train students to meet today's in-demand jobs, which they can fill immediately out of high school without the burden of college loans. Roughly 70 seniors at R.G. Drage already have started their careers. They attend on-campus morning classes for English, math, science and social studies and then leave campus in the afternoon (when other students have laboratory class time) to go to work.

But Murphy said career-focused education increasingly has become a worthwhile option for college-going students.

R.G. Drage held its first college information night earlier this month for students and parents from its six feeder schools — Fairless, Louisville, Minerva, Northwest and Tuslaw and Brown Local in Carroll County — to highlight how a career and technical education can benefit college-bound students.

R.G. Drage now offers a variety of academic courses where students can earn high school credit toward graduation while also earning college credit. Some of the College Credit Plus courses include College Composition, College Algebra, Anatomy, Sociology, Psychology and Entrepreneurship.

Students also claim additional college credit hours through their career tech program upon enrolling in the same program area at a partner college or university. For example, R.G. Drage dental assisting students who successfully complete the program can earn up to 12 credit hours that can be used at Stark State College toward their associate degree in dental assisting.

According to the most recent state report card results, 16 R.G. Drage students were enrolled in courses where they could receive both high school and college credit last year. Murphy said roughly 30 percent of R.G. Drage graduates in 2016 have enrolled in college.

Valery Paris, a career specialist and job developer at R.G. Drage, said when she visits high schools to introduce R.G. Drage's programs to students, she mixes in how its career tech programs also can benefit students interested in college.

She explains how students can use the trade skills they learn in high school to get a job to help them pay their way through college as well as how students also can use their training to obtain a job if their college dream doesn't pan out.

Post-high school figures from the Ohio Department of Education show less than a third of the Stark County public school students who graduated high school in 2009 graduated from college within six years.

"More teachers are becoming aware that a trade can take you just as far as a four-year degree or even further," said Paris, a 2010 Perry High School graduate. "And kids are really starting to think about (career-focused education) differently than how it used to be."

©2017 The Repository, Canton, Ohio Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.