Tim Cook, CEO of Apple was recently asked why his company moved its production to China. “It’s skill”, said Cook in response to Charlie Rose on “60 Minutes. “The U.S., over time, began to stop having as many vocational kind of skills” he said. “I mean, you can take every tool and die maker in the United States and probably put them in a room that we’re currently sitting in. In China, you would have to have multiple football fields.” Okay, so the CEO of the most profitable company in the world moved production out of the U.S. because American workers don’t have enough vocational skills. Surely, that makes alleged “pro-business” legislators stand up and take notice, right? You would think, but this is Arizona.
In our state, the public high school districts charged with offering these tuition-free “vocational kind of skills” or Career and Technical Education (CTE) are Joint Technical Education Districts (JTED.) These JTED offer a variety of programs in fields such as business, computers and media, health science; and industrial technologies just to name a few. Students in JTED programs earn high school credit, and in some cases, may earn college credit, industry certifications, and/or a state license through combination of hands-on training and classroom instruction.
As the Pinal County Chair for the Arizona School Boards Association, I toured the Central Arizona Valley Institute of Technology (CAVIT) in Coolidge this year. This district has a partnership with eleven area high schools and offers aesthetics, cosmetology, dental assistant, fire science, law enforcement, massage therapy, medical assistant, nursing assistant, and veterinary assistant training programs. I was very impressed with what I saw at CAVIT. Engaged students were learning not only valuable trades skills that will earn them certificates and jobs when they graduate from high school, but also how to be valued employees. I left CAVIT thinking “this is exactly what we need in Arizona.”
Unfortunately, the AZ Legislature obviously doesn’t agree or just doesn’t “get it”. In 2011, they cut CTE funding for freshmen to the tune of $29 million. In 2017, another 7.5 percent cut takes affect. That may not sound like much, but on top of previous cuts it will devastate the program. In fact, JTED aren’t the only districts impacted since about 70 percent of the funding they receive is passed through to regular school districts where many of the classes are taught. JTED keeps the other 30 percent for operation of their central campuses. Jeremy Plumb, superintendent of Mountain Institute JTED in Yavapai County, said: [As the] programs continue to grow and expand critical partnerships; business and industry leaders are mind-boggled by the recent statewide program cuts.” Plumb also confirmed that Arizona is beginning to see epidemic employment shortages in industries such as health care, power and electrical systems, and aviation just to name a few. David Jones, president of the Arizona Construction Association, likewise confirms that quality carpenters, welders, electricians, plumbers and landscapers are in high demand adding: “There’s a stigma attached to going to a vocational school in the U.S.” Perhaps, but this stigma hasn’t extinguished student demand in Arizona with over 90,000 students enrolled in one of the state’s 13 JTED. After all, college is expensive and job opportunities aren’t what they used to be. JTED offers an alternative with less risk and at least as much promise for a secure future.
Truth is, although Americans love to tout “college for all” fewer than one in three young people achieve that dream. Some can’t even make it to college, but the real problem is our drop-out rate which is the highest in the industrialized world. There are a variety of reasons, to include that many college students (as with high school students who drop out) can’t see a direct connection between their studies and future employment. In fact, 81 percent of high school dropouts say relevant, real-world educational offerings would have kept them in school. This matters because the average dropout will contribute about $300,000 less to society than their high school graduate counterpart. CTE participation has proven to help. In Tucson Unified School District, students who took three or more CTE classes saw as much as a 60 percent decrease in the likelihood of dropping out of high school. In the Mesa Public Schools, students taking just two CTE classes were 79 percent less likely to drop out. Of this type of “applied learning” Richard Condit, Chief Administrative Officer, Sundt Corporation said: It is clear that when students see application of content, they are more engaged in and committed to their education.”
Not only does JTED/CTE provide skilled workers to eager employers, and keep students in school, it often provides young adults higher paying jobs than if they had gone to a four-year college. This is especially true when the avoidance of student debt is considered. A 2011 Harvard study showed that 27 percent of people with post-secondary licenses or certificates—credentials short of an associate’s degree—earn more than the average bachelor’s degree recipient. In today’s tough economy, the percentage is probably higher.
So, CTE is a win-win-win program. And yet, our Legislature seems intent on killing it. Yes, I know it is a budget issue. Yes, I know Governor Ducey is determined not to raise taxes (at least not directly), but this is a choice! This is HIS choice! This is inspite (or maybe in SPITE) of the fact that a recent poll found 66 percent of Arizonans would pay higher taxes to improve public schools.
It is OUR choice whether we continue to let our elected officials act counter to our wishes. Guess what? We ARE the boss of them! We grant them their jobs, we pay their salaries, and we should be giving them performance feedback. Click here for the Governor’s feedback form, and click here to find and email your legislative district’s representatives. And, if you want to make a difference real-time during the next legislative session, click here for the form to sign up for the Legislature’s Request to Speak System where you can engage from your home computer and have your comments become part of the public record. You CAN do something and what you do will matter. As Nike says, “just do it.”