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Archive for Sunday, January 5, 2014

Career and technical education gaining new prominence

January 5, 2014

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In years past, there was always a bright line that separated high school from college: graduating from one was considered a prerequisite for starting the other.

But today, that line has become blurry, and in some ways is being erased altogether as high school students are being encouraged to take college-level courses, and even earn college credit before they graduate.

And in Lawrence, there will soon be a new College and Career Center designed to help students do just that by offering a variety of training programs, with some being taught by high school teachers and others by faculty from area community colleges and technical schools.

“It'll be probably a blend between college instructors, it may be some of our instructors, depending on the programs,” Patrick Kelly, the Lawrence school district's director of career and technical education, said during a recent interview. “Some of the programs we're talking about may be more suitable to our kids than community college courses. And so that gives us some different opportunities.”

Kelly and others who specialize in career education often bristle when people refer to it as “vocational training.” That's a term that conjures up images of what they said is a bygone era when students who weren't bound for college were steered into classes to train them for strictly blue-collar kinds of jobs — industrial trades for boys; clerical and secretarial jobs for young women.

But just as the labor market has changed since the 1970s, with the vast majority of jobs today requiring at least some amount of postsecondary education, so has vocational training, which today goes by the preferred name Career and Technical Education, or CTE.

That's a catchall phrase for programs that prepare students to work in fields that may not require a four-year college degree, but still demand a high level of technical skills and training, many of which have a heavy focus on the so-called STEM courses of science, technology, engineering and math.

Those programs got a big boost statewide in 2012 when the Kansas Legislature approved Gov. Sam Brownback's proposal for a new program that offers free tuition for students to enroll in community college or technical school courses while they are still in high school, and offers cash incentives to high schools for each student they graduate who has already earned an industry-recognized certificate in fields deemed to be in high demand in Kansas.

The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce's Economic Development Corporation is also planning to build an adult job training and education center that will stand alongside the school facility. Chamber officials also hope to work with area community colleges and technical schools to offer programs geared specifically to adults already in the workforce.

Funding for the estimated $5.7 million facility was included in the $92.5 million bond issue that Lawrence district voters approved in April. Construction is expected to begin next year, with plans to open for classes by the fall of 2015.

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