By STEPHANIE HERNANDEZ McGAVIN
Capital News Service
LANSING — The education pendulum that directed so many students toward college degrees is swinging the other way, education experts say, now pointing students more toward skilled trade training as well as college.
The push for young students to attend college, which negatively affected those who weren’t interested in it, went too far during former Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s administration, said Steven Cook, president of the Michigan Education Association (MEA).
The MEA is the state’s largest union of teachers and other school employees.
Vocational and technical programs eliminated due to lack of funding and interest by local administrators and school boards were important for students, Cook said.
“The need is still there — it’s probably bigger now than it was before,” Cook said.
While Cook said standards and requirements for certain school subjects are important for students who want to continue onto college, they impede those who don’t.
“Standards are important, but they have to be relevant to the student’s career choice,” Cook said. “If you’re just throwing a bunch of math at them or science or whatever, and their career path is somewhere else, I’m just not sure you’re going to engage a student. And that’s really what it’s all about.”
William Miller, executive director of the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators, said career and technical programs build on those math and science standards with relevant and interesting material.
The association represents the state’s 56 intermediate school districts, which provide vocational education as part of their services.
Career and tech centers run by intermediate school districts combine high school and post-secondary education with career training, offering certificates and college credit based on their type of enrollment and success. Students can enroll in agricultural sciences, construction, culinary arts, computer programing, machine tool technology and many more skills areas.
Miller said most students involved in career and technical programs outperform those who aren’t in such programs because they can easily apply their real-life experiences in the classroom.
“If you can build on the interests the students have with real-life experiences, it makes their academic program more relevant,” Miller said.
With increasing enrollment and efforts to provide statewide funding for vocational and technical programs, Miller said the districts’ biggest problem is finding enough qualified instructors.
Not many skilled workers are interested in teaching if they have to pay for teaching certification or must leave their jobs, Miller said.
“There are more opportunities for employment lately. People are getting jobs directly in those fields. They have high wages where they are,” Miller said. “It’s part of our struggle in expanding the programs.”
Lenawee Intermediate School District Superintendent James Philp said enrollment is climbing because students feel encouraged to pursue skilled trades.
Both parents and students are starting to see trades as lucrative professions, Philp said.
“The pendulum had swung far over to the priority for all students to go to college, and I think the pendulum is now swinging back. We need a balance between that and technical trades,” Philp said.
He said rising enrollment in tech centers is also due to the diverse opportunities they create for students after high school.
For example, the Lenawee Tech Center in Adrian offers a “College Now” program that pays for college classes for tech center students enrolled as long as those courses follow the career pathway.
Philp said earning free college credits through so-called “articulated credit” or dual enrollment is a huge benefit for students who want to continue their education. They can leave the tech center with career certificates or credits to continue on to an associate or bachelor’s degree if they choose.
Students can apply for articulated credits at postsecondary schools if they had a “B” or higher in the course. Dual enrollment is for students enrolled in both high school and college, earning credit for both.
Pat Buron, the placement coordinator at the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District Career-Tech Center, said receiving college credit depends on both interest and grades — students must meet certain standards, just like any class.
Buron said students at the Traverse City center and their parents see prospects for success in college enrollment opportunities for skilled-trade areas.
“It’s an incentive for the whole school year. But if you want to apply, you have to perform,” Buron said.
To demonstrate the advantage of hands-on, career-oriented learning, Buron said the tech center invites 8th graders from participating schools for a walk-through. When they return as 10th graders, they participate in classes that they’re interested in for potential career paths.
The MEA’s Cook said the state still needs to expand and recruit those students who can’t follow, or don’t want to follow, the traditional college path.
“We have to be a little bit more flexible than we’ve been in the past,” Cook said. “I think we’ve got to pay attention to what kids want to do and meet those needs — that is successful education in my view.”
By STEPHANIE HERNANDEZ McGAVIN