Career and technical education grows locally

Following the state’s upward trend, Ector County Independent School District’s dual credit enrollment has seen huge growth for the past six years.
Statewide, since 2000, Texas has seen 650 percent growth in the number of high school students enrolling in dual credit education. Dual credit lets students to take college-level courses to earn credit toward a high school diploma and college degree.
The Dual Credit Education in Texas Interim Report is the first phase of a two-year research study conducted by RAND Education, a unit of the RAND Corporation, in collaboration with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and Gibson Consulting, a news release said.
Total dual credit enrollment this year is 1,408. Of those, Executive Director of Career & Counseling Services Carla Byrne said 696 are in career and technical education and 712 are non-CTE. In the 2010-2011 school year, there were 55 students in the CTE dual credit program.
Byrne said she thinks part of the reason for the growth is recruiting.
“For all of our CTE dual credit academies, we give copies of the degree plans, the full degree plans in those areas to those students, which includes the core,” Byrne said. Core curriculum includes fine arts, speech, PE and a foreign language, for example.
If students are taking criminal justice, for example, they are shown other course they could take toward an associate degree.
Director of Advanced Academic Services Omega Loera said she thinks another reason for the jump is that dual credit has opened to ninth graders and there is no limit to the number of courses students can take. “It used to just be two per student and now it’s unlimited,” Loera said.
The addition of the early college high schools at Odessa College and the University of Texas of the Permian Basin also have added to the numbers, she said.
Having UTPB on board adds to the growth of the core classes, Byrne said.
“CTE (career and technical education) has traditionally partnered with OC because they’re a technical school, as well. But this year, we’ve had the pleasure of getting to partner on the CTE side with UTPB … for engineering. We’re adding a petroleum engineering course in the spring of next school year, so that’s really exciting. That just furthers our partnership with UTPB. It’s been really good to be able to have that option to partner with both of our institutions of higher ed,” Byrne said.
For CTE, Byrne said ECISD covers the cost of tuition and textbooks.
“I think a lot of times it’s an opportunity that kids may not otherwise have,” Byrne said. She added that it gives students a head-start on their college experience.
“I think it’s just tremendously important,” Byrne said.
She added that many programs are held at Odessa College, for example, which gives students a chance to set foot on a college campus.
“… When they’re successful in those classes, it’s kind of that moment where they’re aware that, ‘I’m in college. I’m doing this. I’m being successful.’ I think that’s the most tremendous piece,” Byrne said.
She added that there also is a possibility for natural matriculation into UTPB, OC or another higher education institution.
Loera said there are three programs in advanced academics – dual credit, Advanced Placement and the International Baccalaureate program. “Just having those different options for students, I think, is such a plus for our community,” she added.
Byrne said CTE organizes career fairs every year at each of the middle school because eighth grade is when students are about to implement their four-year plans, which go into effect for ninth through 12th grade and they make the selections.
The OC dual credit CTE academies don’t begin until students’ junior year.
“Kiddoes can go ahead and select that on their four-year plan for when they’re a junior and senior, but what we typically do their sophomore year is a bunch of announcements. We have folks come in from the college and they set up in the cafeterias at the schools and they pass out information on their programs a degree plans, labor market information and then we announce an application period where kiddoes can come in and see their CTE counselor about their interest in any of these programs,” Byrne said.
Loera said the same thing goes for counselors in the core areas. Counselors from OC and UTPB set up at the high schools to let students know there is a window for them to register to take dual credit courses.
Word of mouth also is an important component to recruiting students, Byrne said.
“I think it holds more water when it’s from their peers than from a grown-up anyway. Word of mouth is huge probably the most important piece,” Byrne said.
Additionally, Byrne said the perception of career and technical education is changing.
“We’re starting to see wages with a two-year degree are exceeding wages from four-year degrees. So slowly but surely, this ship is turning it around. Previously, people have looked down their nose at workforce ed. I think we’re seeing this shift that there’s value in workforce education. That to me is just wonderful, but again it’s a big ship. It’s going to take a while to turn it completely around,” Byrne said.