When vocational education high schools first gained a strong foundation in Ohio four or five decades ago, they were often seen as the Rodney Dangerfields of public education. Simply put, they get a little respect.
Many abuse them as harsh grounding for those who cannot or cannot meet the rigorous standards of a college prep academic path. Such arrogant snippets were not only inaccurate and unfair, but completely misleading.
Today’s network of seventeen Ohio-based career and technology centers—including the Mahoning Valley County Career and Technical Center, Trumbull Career and Technical Center, Columbiana Career and Technical Center, and Chauvin Career and Technical Center—has come of age. They are increasingly placing a premium on training outstanding young students in professions that are highly skilled, technical, marketable and in high demand. As a result, interest in attending skyrocketed.
In Mahoning County, for example, MCCTC Director John Zehentbauer said the school is inundated with applications. The school has 600 new applicants but can only fit about 430 of its 21 programs. In Trumbull County, TCTC Superintendent Jason Gray said enrollment has also exceeded the limit.
Given these clear trends, we were pleased earlier this year when Governor Mike DeWine proposed a significant boost to career and technical education in his budget proposal for the 2024-2025 biennium. At first glance, the increases seem amazing, but in fact they are only responding to the rapid rise in interest and need for cutting-edge professional education in our state.
One aspect of DeWine’s proposal would spend $102.2 million on major private CTE (vocational technical education) programs in fiscal 2024, up 264 percent from the $28 million spent on them in fiscal 2024.
Of particular note in the two-year proposal is an additional allocation of $100 million of the total over two years for CTE school equipment and $200 million for new construction and expansion.
The Ohio General Assembly must seriously consider and finally approve the governor’s recommendation well in advance of its June 30 deadline. Senators and members of the House should take note of the comments received by the Governor, First Lady and Lieutenant Governor on their fact-finding tour of CTE centers over the past year.
“When Fran, the Lieutenant Governor and I would visit these vocational centers, we would talk to the teachers and supervisors about the different programs they offer. We would ask how many students were enrolled, and every so often, the teachers would tell us that more kids would like to take the courses, but there are waiting lists.” Because there simply aren’t enough open spaces,” DeWine said in his state of the country address this year. “In other cases, they told us they didn’t have the most modern equipment to teach certain courses.”
In addition to the funding boost the Mahoning Valley needs to clearly justify it, the governor’s budget recommendation also includes three valuable goals to ensure that such spending is better fiscally responsible.
First, analyzing the credentials that Ohio employers demand and those that students actually earn is elusive. Only 20 percent of Ohio State’s class of 2020 credentials were considered “on request,” According to a study conducted by Lightcast, a work analysis organization and published by the Thomas Fordham Institute. Sixty-eight percent of state credentials are lacking Purposeful labor market demand The study concluded. That’s why the governor’s goal was a big increase “on request” Programs to be the cornerstone of increased funding.
The budget recommendation also calls for more work-based learning where students receive credits for on-the-job training pursued alongside their school curriculum. It also calls on schools to develop more locally focused partnerships.
Obviously, both goals also have an advantage. In the Valley, the partnership between Youngstown State University’s Training Center of Excellence and the four CTE schools in the Valley already provides exciting opportunities for the growing cadre of high school students pursuing an education in the lucrative field of advanced manufacturing.
Career-focused education also makes especially sense locally and in Ohio. From the $100 billion Intel Chip plant under construction near Columbus to Ultium Cells, Foxconn and other companies have sparked our business “Voltage Valley,” Employment opportunities in skilled trades are plentiful and on a growth trajectory.
And let’s face it. Not everyone wants to go through four years of largely classroom-focused learning at college or university.
Their professional or technical skills are required just as much – if not more in many cases – to keep our economy thriving.
Frankly, if we want to continue to lead the world in manufacturing and new technology, we must make sure that our workforce is ready and capable.
This requires a strong investment in young people and the education they receive. Which is why DeWine’s proposed investment in career and technical education over the next two years in Ohio warrants sweeping, bipartisan support in our state legislature.