Alternative education gains traction among high school students

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By LANCE COHEN
Capital News Service

LANSING —  More high school students are taking an alternative approach to their education, according to a new report.

Career and technical education (CTE) programs in Michigan added more than 1,300 students during the 2017-18 school year, according to the Department of Talent and Economic Development.

The departments of Education and Talent and Economic Development work in partnership to meet the needs of students, said Bill DiSessa, a a communications officer for the Education Department.

“The department’s goal is to ensure that students are career-and college-ready after they graduate from high school,” DiSessa said. “Since not everyone wants to go to college, career and technical education classes allow students to gain necessary knowledge and skills that can be used immediately after graduation.”

Programs such as information technology, computer science, and other STEM fields require more education following high school while those in agriculture or manufacturing courses may be able to start their careers shortly after graduation, said Dan Olsen, communications and media relations manager with the Talent and Economic Development.

“By 2024, Michigan is expected to have over 800,000 career openings in the professional trades,” Olsen said. “These programs provide valuable opportunities where students at a young age can develop skills that they can put to the test in the workforce or college.”

This is the fourth consecutive year with an increase in enrollment, with over 110,000 students throughout the state involved in such programs. Michigan has 477,489 high school students, according to the Michigan Center for Educational Performance and Information, an agency responsible for reporting on education data for the state.

Since the start of the 2014-15 school year, career and technical education programs have grown by more than 6 percent.

Over 30 percent of high school juniors and seniors are involved in these programs and nearly 97 percent of those who participate graduate from high school. The overall graduation rate among high school students in the state is only 80 percent. 

One reason for this increase is that the department began to focus more resources to improve those programs in the past few years, including a major public relations campaign, Olsen said.

The Going PRO in Michigan campaign goal is to elevate the perception of professional trades and showcase opportunities in a variety of fulfilling careers, Olsen said.

“The work we are doing with the Going PRO campaign is really starting to have an impact and attract high school students to careers they may have not previously thought about,” Olsen said. “These unique, hands-on opportunities provide students with 21st century skills that employers are in desperate need of.”

The most popular educational programs include agriculture, health care, business management and marketing, Olsen said.

These four programs enroll 54,000 students throughout the state  while the rest of the students are divided among 13 other learning opportunities, Olsen said.

Some of these additional programs include government and public administration, manufacturing and human services.

Career and technical education programs have also seen an increase in popularity due to the high demand in the job market including positions in information technology, computer science and  manufacturing, Olsen said.

Career and technical education programs provide students with a competitive advantage among their peers, said Ted Paton, the associate superintendent of career and technical education for the Ionia County Intermediate School District.

Unfortunately, there is a misnomer that students involved in CTE programs don’t go on to attend college, Paton said.

“This couldn’t be farther from the truth, as my students are more likely than the typical student to attend a four-year university,” Patton said.“The stigma needs to come away from professional trades industry as there are many ways towards success.”

Students at all educational levels that participate in a CTE program make higher wages compared with those who don’t participate, Paton said.