Technical Institutes and Career Academies: Educational Alternatives in a Changing World
Our ever-evolving education system is constantly exploring ways to prepare students for the work of the future. The charter school movement has introduced the term “scholar” to replace the word “student” — thus fostering a quest for some deeper stone of knowledge in the hearts and minds of its young learners.
Dr. Steve Perry, founder of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Connecticut boasts a 100% graduation rate — coupled with a 100% four-year college admission rate — among its graduates. This is the model of success that charter, public, and private schools all over the country seek to emulate.
In the midst of a national conversation that is dominated by higher education as a path to a better way of life, how do we discuss the option of vocational schools and training institutes with adults who are considering furthering their education…or to high school students at a crossroads trying to answer the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Interest is the compass that should guide choices, says Elaine Metcalf, Director of Summit Technical Academy in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. “Know what a person’s skills are and what their passion is. Turning that passion into making a living is the key to helping students advance.” Many students who graduate from high school get accepted to a four-year college or university — but the reality is that the majority of these students do not get substantial scholarships or grants. As a result, students are faced with taking out college loans that equal the price of a small house.
Those who seek to reform education worry that people of color will be streamlined towards two-year colleges, as was the overwhelming case in the past. Shelli Copas, Counselor at Ruskin High School in South Kansas City, agrees with Metcalf and says students at her school are guided according to their interests. “The career centers are brought up numerous times in conversations during advisement periods and with each student’s counselor. Also if a student is in an elective that feeds into one of the programs at Herndon or Summit Tech [area vocational schools], those programs are talked about numerous times throughout those elective classes.”
Metcalf stresses that students who graduate from a two-year technical training institute can use their training to create earnings much higher than minimum wage — while they further their education beyond the two-year degree. “We are teaching students about the professional certifications that industry requires…and how to use that certification to pay your way through college.”
In exploring alternative options, it is important to note that the trade schools of today are different than the trade schools of the past. The art of branding has not been lost on this sector. The titles of “trade school” or “vocational school” are not used anymore – today’s training programs are called technical schools, career centers, and career academies. While in some instances the definition of college has expanded to include these schools, in many cases the programs are still plagued by stereotypes and assumptions — with two-year colleges being viewed as best-case options for people with low aptitude or a lack of ambition.
However, statistics prove that in the quest for autonomy and stability, two-year colleges are smart options to be considered.
“Statistics will show that someone with a two-year college degree [in engineering technology or energy conservation] will make more money than someone with a four-year degree — if they obtain a skill that is in demand,” says Metcalf. She adds that even adult college graduates are going back to college — and are selecting training institutes to prepare them for employment in today’s market.
Another thing to be wary of is how programs advertise themselves and their offerings. Schools assuring students their programs will lead to employment in a career or field that’s “in demand” should be cautious. An increasing number of training institutes are run by private institutions — that lure applicants by promising their life can totally change in “just 9 months!” These institutions often have high-priced tuition and bootleg accreditations. But to someone eager to get to the other side of their “rainbow,” lofty promises and sleek advertising campaigns can cause students to overlook something as critical as accreditation status.
To best assess a legitimate two-year training institute, Metcalf suggests that seekers first visit career centers at a public two or four-year university to check their offerings and recommendations. As public institutions, their use of state funds will require them to adhere to stricter accreditation guidelines when working with students…and they offer career counseling for free.
Tough economic times demand that we evaluate more avenues and pathways to success. It’s important to be open to legitimate alternative ideas of what it means to be educated and prepared — for today’s global employment market.
Considering a two-year education option? Assess your interests by visiting O*NET OnLine.
Want to find a legitimate two-year institute? Check out College Navigator.
Elizabeth Herron is originally from Kansas City, Missouri, and resides in Harlem, New York City. She is an educator, stage director, and Teaching Artist for the Apollo Theater, Lincoln Center Theater, and Lincoln Center Institute.