Making Change: Vocational Education Funding in Jeopardy

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Nobody knows exactly what the economy will demand of workers in the future. But one thing is clear.

Darrell Parks: This nation cannot survive without a skilled workforce.

Darrell Parks is executive director of Ohio's chapter of the Association for Career and Technical Education. He's worked in vocational education for well over 40 years and says extensive research has proven that voc ed is vital to developing a skilled workforce.

Darrell Parks: During my heyday, the argument was well that's business and industry's responsibility. But business and industry are not doing it. And if you look around the world, skilled workers are coming out of the educational system.

And some are coming out of Northeast Ohio's vocational districts, like the Tri-Heights Career Tech Consortium, where Warrensville, Shaker, and Cleveland Heights students are learning everything from biotechnology to cosmetology. Architect Calvin Singleton has worked with many Tri-Heights students over the years.

Calvin Singleton: The students when they do come, they have the knowledge and the aptitude. I find students are very aggressive, and they're very open to learning.

Cleveland Heights High senior Nathan Boyle is one of Singleton's current interns. Quiet - at least when asked to talk about himself - Boyle is designing a daycare center for Singleton. Next year, he'll begin work toward a degree in architecture. Then, he's coming home. At least that's the current plan.

Nathan Boyle: Knowing how, like, Cleveland is, and they always want more people to come here - they can always use architects and new ideas.

Think of Boyle as one factor in a regional economic equation. Still in high school, he's training in his chosen profession while helping support a small business. (Singleton is quick to acknowledge that voc ed students are an asset to him). Assuming he completes his education and returns to Cleveland as planned, Boyle will have not only realized his dream, he will have become a plug in the regional brain drain. He also, according to Darrell Parks of the Association for Career and Technical education, may wind up contributing more economically than his college-bound counterparts with no voc ed experience.

Darrell Parks: Students who take at least four concentrated areas of career/technical education in high school, and go on and complete a baccalaureate degree, will earn more money annually over the first decade out of college than their counterparts who didn't take those four concentrated areas in high school.

Not what you imagined from voc ed? You could be operating on an outdated set of assumptions, according Thelma Williams, coordinator of technical education at Heights High.

Thelma Williams: A lot of people think, 'Oh if they're not going to college, then maybe they should take career and technical education.'

And some voc ed students don't continue their education past high school-Singleton says students have taken skills he's helped them develop and gone immediately into the workforce after graduation. But going on to college is also common. Williams says five of her voc ed programs have formal links to associate degree programs. One being added to the list is pharmacy tech, which Anna Kiss began teaching this year.

Anna Kiss: Flowrate equals amount over time. What else - Tony? Amount equals flowrate times time.

Kiss is reviewing formulas with about a dozen students, none of whom is wondering why they need to know this stuff. Pharmacy students know that learning how to deliver IV medication according to doctors' orders is relevant to their future. Daryleen Frizzell says she's glad for the training she's receiving, including work in what's called employability.

Daryleen Frizzell: We have, like, little play roles, and we do scenes, like if a customer came up to you with a bad attitude or something.

Frizzell says just being in high school has prepared her well not to rise to anyone's bait, and she feels sure she'll be able to remain calm in the face of unreasonable customers. This may seem less than critical to her training, but it isn't. Employability is woven into every vocational education program, Williams says. And she says, some businesspeople have told her that mainstream students could learn something about how to conduct themselves in the workplace from their counterparts in voc ed.

Thelma Williams: We have a business advisory committee. And some of the people on the committee say, 'If you could just do something to help other students learn how to apply, how to present themselves.'

It's a far cry from vocational-education-as-dumping-ground-for-kids-who-can't-make-it-elsewhere. Voc ed has evolved. And that's just what it's always done, according to Darrell Parks-adjusted to the needs of the marketplace.

Darrell Parks: Career and technical education, ever since its inception, has had a history of being student-centered, and responsive to the needs of society and the economy.

It's also tightened academic standards. Last year in Ohio, according to Parks, vocational education students passed the state proficiency exams at a rate of 94.6%. Cindi Deutschman-Ruiz, 90.3.

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