California : College of the Sequoias is often thought of as a stepping stone for students who plan to attend a four-year university. But, for those looking to learn a trade, the college is a one-stop shop before entering the workplace.
In fall 2011, 54.8 percent of the nearly 12,000 COS students were enrolled in at least one vocational training course, according to college officials.
That number has dropped more than 10 percent in five years. In fall 2016, 44 percent of the 12,750 students enrolled took some form of Career Technical Education course. But, administrators are hopeful the decline will turn around as the focus is less on college and more on the workforce.
A new look at Career Tech Education
“Within the last few years, especially in local high schools, they’ve beefed up their career tech programs,” said Michael Niehoff, COS Career Technical education grant manager. “Maybe instead of focusing on the number of students enrolled, we should instead focus on those students successfully finishing programs.”
Local school districts offer pathway and linked learning programs, giving students a look at specific career paths.
Another aspect in COS’ favor? The new California Community College initiative to get more students enrolled in career technical courses. College of the Sequoias is a two-year California Community College that serves nearly 16,000 students at campuses in Visalia, Tulare and Hanford.
California has devoted $6 million to a rebranding campaign to help eliminate stigmas associated with these programs. An additional $200 million per year will be available for college use.
“I’m proud to say that California Community Colleges are taking the lead on [Career Technical Education] nationally to ensure that we’re creating programs and curriculum that allow students to quickly get into the workforce and take advantage of the jobs that are out there,” said Eloy Oakley, Community College Chancellor.
The stigma problem lies with the institutional push for “college-for-all,” said Randy Emery, COS welding instructor and CTE liaison. As students were led toward a four-degree path, vocational education was left behind.
“I see it as an institutional neglect — a few decades of pushing vocational education aside and labeling it as ‘less than,'” Emery said. “I’m an advocate and a solid believer in vocational education and, based on my experience, it was a huge mistake.”
COS and CTE
With the help of educators like Emery, COS is bolstering its CTE programs. The community college offers CTE courses in eight categories, including agriculture, construction, human services, fashion, health science, technology, public service and transportation.
Within those categories, some courses allow students to earn a certificate that can then be used to enter the workforce. Students can also choose to continue their education at another educational institution.
Welding student Tim Foster, 34 of Lemoore, hopes to get his certificate in welding in May. Once he completes the program, he plans to stay in the Central Valley and find work using his newly learned trade. Students in the welding cohort are on the fast track to earn an American Welding Society approved certificate in just one semester. The speedy program is what draws many students, Emery said.
“Our focus is to connect students with work in the shortest pathway possible,” he added.
Foster, originally from Michigan, spent much of his adult life enlisted in the United States Navy. Through the Navy, he earned a Bachelors Degree in Aeronautics with a minor in aviation safety. While he is proud of his accomplishments, his degrees aren’t exactly helping him now.
“In the Navy, they pushed the college route,” he said.
This is the third year the college has offered the welding certificate program for three years. Since it began, Emery has helped secure internship and job opportunities for several students.
Local welding companies are not the only ones looking to COS for future employees. College of the Sequoias architecture student Karina Benitez, 21, works on a project during class on Wednesday morning at the COS Tulare campus. The college’s architecture program is also ripe for local picking, said professor Rolando Gonzalez.
On the program’s web page, a list of all program graduates who have found work in their field of study is available to view. Of those listed, many have found work in the Central Valley. Another list shows those students that continued their education at specialty schools.
“Here’s your proof that they are finding jobs,” Gonzalez said as he scrolled through the list. “Whether the land employment or at a university, our job is to make sure they have the education to hit the ground running.”
Architecture student Josue Cortes, 21 of Exeter, plans to finish the two-year architecture program before transferring to NewSchool of Architecture and Design in San Diego.
It’s fun and the creativity just flows out of you.He said the COS architecture program has given him the head start he needs to be successful in his field. All of the classes are very hands-on,” Cortes said.
We hopes that with more students will begin to take advantage of the college’s programs and not see them as “less-than”. “There’s an image problem around the tradesman. We’re not dirty, foul mouthed or under educated individuals,” Emery said. “That image needs to be put to rest.”
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