With the slow economic recovery following the recession, a pattern is emerging which clearly shows vocational high schools changing with the economy.
As enrollment has swelled, vocational high schools have become more selective. For example, in Gloucester County NJ, enrollment at the Institute of Technology has increased from an average of 700 to more than 1400. According to Principal Jamie Dundee, only 365 students are admitted out of more than 1000 applicants each year.
“The growth is there,” said Dundee, who took over as principal this year.
Public vocational schools are clearing those paths in two different ways, said Dundee.
First, they have their traditional occupational hands-on training programs that prepare students for careers in trades such as HVAC, culinary arts and auto mechanics, that’s grown into a full-time educational experience from its “share-time” days in the 1990s.
But they also have the academy side, where science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, courses, as well as Allied Health have taken center stage.
“There’s a lot of interest in technical fields, because that’s where people are looking to hire,” said engineering teacher Steve Bittner, who’s been a part of their Academy of Engineering program for two years, helping students learn the foundations of a technical and engineering education.
“It gets them used to the design and build cycles that people need,” said Bittner.
One of his students, junior Arianna Middleton of Mantua, said it’s that hands-on and process-based education that keeps her interested and compelled to do well in her courses.
Despite anticipating a separation between the high school’s two sides, Arianna said she’s seen lines blurred, disciplines crossed and a much more integrated school culture.
In addition to the mechanical engineering education, she was drawn into GCIT by the dual and articulated credit programs that allow students to amass college credits, for free, while completing their high school diplomas and enter into college with a year or two’s worth of credits already under their belt.