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Closing the Gap Between College Ambition and Career Readiness

Closing the Gap Between College Ambition and Career Readiness

Career and Technical High Schools Help Students Forge Ahead


Arlington Independent School District, which has partnered with TCC to provide dual credit programs and early college high school (ECHS) for its students, recently completed and opened the futuristic Dan Dipert Career and Technical Center (pictured). While dual credit and ECHS are not new to the area, educational leaders recognize that career and technical programs — and the resulting certifications that lead to well-paying jobs — are critical to strengthening the regional and state economy. Accordingly, the Dan Dipert Career and Technical Center will enable students to participate in the combined ECHS, dual credit and career and technical education (CTE) programs, allowing them to graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree (ECHS) or a CTE certification (dual credit). Likewise, Crowley ISD is in the process of constructing a state-of-the-art CTE center to expand its offerings through enhanced dual credit, ECHS programs and the existing CTE dual credit program offerings in partnership with TCC.

Student weldingHistorically, career and technical education have played a significant role in U.S. secondary schools. The first federal law providing funding for vocational education was passed in 1917, even before education was compulsory in every state. Today, as then, CTE programs can motivate students to attend school more frequently and be more engaged, and therefore improve core academic skills, according to The Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, DC. In the 1980s, CTE programs were eliminated from many secondary schools to accommodate an increased focus on core math, science, social studies and foreign language courses that were believed to make students more college-ready. The reality — leading to the CTE renaissance is that four-year colleges and universities are not the right fit for many secondary students, yet achieving the right credentials to pursue a technical career in fields like gaming design or welding means more job opportunities and future financial independence.

Arlington ISD’s current for-credit CTE certification offerings include three programs delivered by TCC instructors embedded at the Dan Dipert Center and Technical Center. Students have their choice of CTE Dual Credit Welding Basic, CTE Game and Simulation Programming I and a traditional basic undergraduate welding class offered in the evenings.

TCC South adjunct instructor, Stephen Oeffner, teaches 10 students enrolled in TCC’s Game and Simulation Programming I CTE - Dual Credit certificate program. “These bright, future video game artists and architects are on track to earn their CTE certificate of completion in the fall of 2020,” said Oeffner. Additionally, these students are on track to complete classes in Video Game Art I and Video Game Design in the spring 2019 semester.

“Nearly each of my students sees these courses as necessary stepping stones to big careers in video game development and architecture — or, as some students will tell you — to anything in computers, because all the skills learned are transferable,” said Oeffner.

According to Karen Nolen-Austin, TCC Southeast’s career and technical education (CATE) manager for dual credit programs at both Arlington and Mansfield ISD high schools, “A tremendous amount of pre- and post-planning efforts involve the inclusion and alignment of TCC’s team of department deans, chairs and coordinators to facilitate CTE programs at Arlington ISD’s Dan Dipert Career and Technical Center.” Nolen-Austin leads the daily administrative and managerial support work needed for successful launches and sustaining the TCC CTE dual credit programs operating within both school districts.

TCC’s agreements with area school districts to facilitate the instruction through the ECHSs, dual credit and dual credit CTE programs are leading to demonstrable successes. “Students benefit from receiving the same high level of instruction as their college-aged peers, at no cost to the student or their family, and increasing college readiness, which dramatically reduces the barriers to college faced by many students,” said Demetrice Thompson, coordinator of special projects, at the Crowley South Campus Center.

Interior view of Career and Technical Center

According to Richard Vela, director of TCC’s dual credit programs, some of the CTE courses currently offered through Crowley ISD with embedded TCC instructors — such as Automotives — are very long. “It takes up to two or three periods of a high school day to get one course completed. Therefore, it's hard to build in the full degree based on that schedule. Considering the time restraints, the goal is trying to complete as many courses possible within that limitation. Our hope is students will return to TCC and finish the Associate of Applied Science degree with their earned certifications,” said Vela.

According to the Texas Education Agency (TEA), a new model of public education called P-TECH is helping close the gap between young people’s ambitions for college and careers and the specific skills needed by employers in high-growth industries. Texas is home to 34 designated P-TECH Schools and has 28 campuses in the pipeline for the 2019-2020 academic year. TCC South’s ECHS is converting to the P-TECH model beginning fall 2019. To gain the designation, high schools must have committed industry partners to train students, allowing students to gain industry work experience through an internship, apprenticeship or other job training programs. For TCC South, City of Fort Worth Water, Oncor and Microsoft are on board. And though the promise of a job is not given, students who complete the program will have priority in interviewing with their preferred campus partner-employer.

Kyla Wylie, an Arlington ISD junior at the Dan Dipert Center, sits at an oversized monitor in the dual credit Game and Simulation Programming class working on revisions to a monstrous looking creature on the screen in front of her. “His features aren’t quite right, but I can enlarge the view and work to get them looking better,” she said. Like many of her classmates, Wylie plans to work in computer animation for a video game company. “This class will let me show what I can do and be ahead of the competition when it comes to getting a job,” she said.

Find information on enrolling in dual credit, early college high school or dual credit career and technical programs.

For information on what may be required by your school district to enroll in these programs, visit your school district’s website or your campus counselor.