HUNTINGTON — The Cabell County Career Technology Center’s student enrollment has hit an all-time high with more than 300 high school students participating for the 2018-19 school year.
That’s nearly double the number of students enrolled five years ago.
Educators attribute the rise in interest to the changing attitudes toward career-technology education — among the public, employers and students — an increased demand for skilled labor and the career center’s expanded vocational offerings.
“The big change now is that students are no longer seeing this as an option for just those who want to go to work right after high school,” said Frank Barnett, CCCTC principal. “They see the earning potential (in vocational trades), but also that they can still attend college after graduation.
“Kids are looking at it as that they can start here and finish anywhere as far as their career.”
The career center offers student programs in welding, automotive collision and technology, machine trades, HVAC, electricity, building facilities maintenance, carpentry, construction, coding/game and app design, business technology, graphic design, and law and public safety.
The district is also looking to expand CTE programming to offer plumbing and cosmetology in the near future.
“If we added those programs, they’d quickly fill up to capacity too,” said Joedy Cunningham, executive director of secondary/post-secondary schools at Cabell County Schools.
Enrollment also has shifted toward far more full-time CCCTC students — who take all their core classes like math and English at the career center — rather than what’s traditionally been mostly part-time students who would take their vo-tech classes at the center but return to their regular high schools for core classes.
CCCTC now offers all core classes except Advanced Placement courses, meaning most students will spend their entire high school career at the center in Huntington. Only 35 CCCTC students are currently part time.
“Now students want to go out there and stay all day,” Cunningham said. “They have a chance to finish all their core programs there, not just their program of study.”
Career literacy has been more strongly promoted in recent years in the county’s younger grades, especially in eighth grade, highlighting a broader scope of the jobs available after graduation rather than simply those that require a traditional college education.
“There’s been a changing attitude in the world that we need more skilled labor,” Cunningham said. “And here’s a perfect place to get some of that training.”
Enrolling was a sound financial decision for Eric Smith, a sophomore from Glenwood in the career center’s electricity program — not only in the promise of substantial pay in electrical work, but also in the price of training in high school versus as an adult.
“I’d rather come here as a high school student and get the opportunity than to come as an adult and pay,” Smith said. “As a high school student, it’s free. You get the education and you go straight into the job market.”
About 100 adult learners are also enrolled at the career center in auto technology, electricity, HVAC and licensed practical nursing. Adult tuition can cost as much as $8,000, while Cabell County students receive the same training, often in the same classes, for free.
“It’s nice, especially that it’ll be good pay,” Smith said. “And it’s nice that I won’t have to spend a lot of money on college to get a good education.”
Over the screeching of metal-on-metal in the career center’s auto garage, Griff Adkins rattled off all that he’s already learned in the auto collision program — from plastic welding to patching a rust spot on a car.
“These are some of the good-paying jobs in America, and I’d rather be rich than poor,” Adkins said.
The junior from Guyandotte added it was more engaging than typical high school class-work for those who’d rather make their living with their hands.
“You can learn to use a computer all you want, but if you crash your car, you’re going to have to pay somebody to fix it if all you know is to type something on the computer,” Adkins said.
The Cabell County Career Technology Center is located at 1035 Norway Ave. in Huntington.
Follow reporter Bishop Nash on Twitter @BishopNash.