INDIANAPOLIS – More Hoosier students than ever are taking career and technical education courses.
And that effort is getting results: a higher high school graduation rate and less remediation needed in the first year of college.
In fact, the old adage about career and tech students not going to college at all – instead going right into the workforce – has been turned on its head.
Those are the latest statistics as Gov. Mike Pence and the Indiana Department of Education continue to push career readiness as a major priority.
In the latest legislative session, Pence lost an effort to change how K-12 schools receive funding for career and technical education courses, also known as CTE.
But he persuaded lawmakers to set aside a large pot of money to advance related programs.
"The governor’s vision for career and tech ed has really caught fire," said Jackie Dowd, special assistant to the governor for career innovation. "He wants two Plan As – college and workforce. It’s all honest work.
"We need to elevate it in the minds of students and parents and teachers alike."
There are more than 160 approved career and technical education courses in Indiana. They range from advanced manufacturing, accounting and aerospace engineering to welding, veterinary careers and 3-D computer animation.
In the 2012-13 school year, there were 155,021 CTE participants, which means students took at least one course. Of those, about 29,700 were concentrators – which means they are taking more than one course in a particular area of study.
Participation rose to 157,000 kids in 2013-14, and the latest data are not yet available.
A recent report from the Indiana Department of Education showed that those concentrating on CTE courses have a higher graduation rate – 95 percent – compared with 89.8 percent for all graduates in general.
Also, about 85 percent of CTE concentrators are going on to a two-year or four-year college or postsecondary program, including for an industry credential; 14 percent go directly to work, and 1 percent enter military service.
And when the kids go to college, they have a lower rate of needing remedial math and English courses – 9.3 percent in 2013-14 compared with 23 percent for other graduates.
Dowd said the focus is getting the students the skills necessary to fill high-wage, high-demand jobs. Some examples of this are manufacturing, agriculture and science and technology careers.
Regional work councils that Pence and the legislature set up have assessed the needs of industries around the state. What business might need in Fort Wayne is different from what Evansville needs, for instance.
"The partnership with business and industry is the strongest it has ever been," said Larry Gerardot, principal at Fort Wayne Community Schools’ Career Academy at Anthis Center.
He noted that more and more companies are investing and offering work-based learning opportunities as part of CTE courses.
"The big difference today is the level of the curriculum – which matches beginning college-level curriculum as well as industry-based," Gerardot said.
Dowd said the state first offered grants for awareness campaigns and then passed out $5 million annually in innovation grants.
One of those worth $350,000 went to the Warsaw Area Career Center for a special program with a private match in welding and machining. The curriculum was based on a combination of models utilizing classroom instruction, extensive hands-on laboratory project time and work-based learning.
Students use three different welding processes to obtain certifications and will have advanced training in the first year of the program on all three processes. Similar efforts are also on the machining technology side.
Dowd said the new state budget increases that amount to $24 million annually to be used for investments in career and technical education pathways or statewide career and technical education and workforce development initiatives focused on high-wage and high-demand jobs.
Of that amount, it sets aside $3 million a year for a special program at Vincennes University and $5 million a year for existing performance grants.
"That is a resounding stamp of approval by the General Assembly," Dowd said.
The funding that goes directly to schools for programming went up slightly in the budget – from $97 million in fiscal year 2015 to $101 million in fiscal year 2017.
Peggy Wild, state director for career and technical education for the Indiana Department of Education, said funding is awarded to schools based on enrollment in CTE classes. Some changes have been made to the funding chart so that certain courses reap more dollars than others.
For example, Dowd said, if a student is taking a three-credit course in welding – a high-wage, high-demand area – a school would receive $450 for each credit for that student or an additional $1,350 over the base funding schools already get for students.
But Pence wanted a dramatic shift to outcome-based funding in which funding would depend partly on other factors, such as how many students concentrate in CTE, go through work-based learning or receive credentials.
Lawmakers couldn’t come to agreement on the issue, as schools argued it would mean a cut in funding.
"I think our formula works. We have the data to show significant and steady increase of student participation," Wild said.