Tech Classes Cut Despite Demand

Courtney Williams's picture
Thursday, January 5, 2012

Nicollette Spooner has known since she was a little girl that she wanted to be a beautician, but her long-term plan has met some near-term challenges.

Space is much more limited today in Minnesota's career and technical education classes because the state has slashed more than half of its course offerings in recent years. Demand, meantime, remains strong.

Although it's what she wants to do when she graduates, Spooner was able to squeeze in only two hours a week of cosmetology at Northeast Metro Intermediate School District last semester. 

"It's what really interests me, so I'll do what I can," Spooner said recently while putting relaxer into a classroom mannequin's hair.

With the climbing price of college, high school students are enrolling in career and technical classes at an unprecedented rate, administrators say.

That demand puts the state's Department of Education in an unusual dilemma: Despite the growing demand, the number of career and technical classes has fallen from about 2,750 to 1,200 between 2008 and 2011. The cuts are because of flat state and federal funding as well as changing priorities that have school districts focusing on core classes in an effort to meet No Child Left Behind standards.

"It gets rugged while running an auto-mechanic class with 60 kids," said Daniel Smith, who oversees Minnesota's high school career and technical education as the supervisor of Minnesota's Center for Postsecondary Success. "It borders on safety issues, but we've watched that very carefully."

Career and technical education advocates, meanwhile, say their classes are more important than ever.They say the training plays a key role in closing the skills gap by getting unmotivated teenagers on a career track by the time they are 18.

"We're offering practical-application learning here," said Dan Fleming, Northeast Metro Intermediate School District's education coordinator. "To these kids, they're learning because they'll eventually be doing."

Minnesota's career and technical education program hit its peak in the 1970s when there were more than 70 career and technical centers for high school students. They were stocked with the latest equipment and dozens of nationally certified programs, Smith said.

In the 1980s, high schools began to be seen as a place to prepare students for a liberal arts four-year degree, emphasizing reading, writing and arithmetic rather than skills for a job.

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