Our nation has focused heavily in the past two decades on the importance of a bachelor’s degree and has equated that with success. As a result, we are now seeing a shortage in skilled laborers. A career and technical education (CTE) pathway, once considered a “back-up plan,” currently has a starting salary equivalent to, or more than, masters graduates. It has become normal to see ads and marketing initiatives across social media platforms targeting people who have received CTE. Representatives from our local higher education institutions and school districts boast that Texarkana, USA is ahead of the game in training and preparing for a highly skilled workforce. In fact, one of the most appealing factors for a new business wanting to move to Texarkana is knowing they will have the resources to hire highly skilled people. Texarkana CTE programs address industry needs and the constant innovation of technologies. CTE programs allow our region to continue to compete with larger cities and metropolitan areas across the state and nation.
Brandon Washington, Vice President of Campus Operations and Dean of Community & Business and Workforce Education at Texarkana College, stated, “CTE programs allow a huge jump-start to a person’s career. For example, industrial maintenance students at Texarkana College are being hired before they even graduate.” Washington explained, “There are enormous job openings with major earning potential and the U.S. is having trouble filling these spots. That is why the mission of the CTE program at Texarkana College is to identify these needs and invest in state-of-the-art equipment to train our students and have them prepared to enter the workforce in these high demand jobs.” Not only are these initiatives being encouraged throughout the state of Texas, but the state of Arkansas is also seeing a high demand for CTE programs as well. Jennifer Teresa, Dean of the Industrial and Technical Division at the University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana (UAHT), stated “Governor Hutchinson is making a big push for CTE programs. We want to be leaders in the state for this initiative and are expanding and moving forward in this direction.”
A unique aspect of CTE programs in our community is the partnerships between higher education institutions and local school districts. Through dual credit CTE courses and state-wide CTE initiatives for K-12 schools, students are exposed more than ever to hands-on CTE programs. Stephanie Stokes, Dual Credit Coordinator at Texarkana College, stated, “Texarkana College partners with 16 school districts to provide dual credit CTE programs. Their instructors are highly trained and certified in the respective CTE subject, and the outcome of a dual credit CTE course is the exact same as a traditional college CTE course.” Stokes emphasized dual credit Career Tech programs allow young students to discover the type of work and industry they are interested in. It also exposes them to several pathways within each industry.
Mikki Curtis, Director of the Secondary Career and Technical Education Center at University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana, also works alongside Arkansas School Districts to partner and provide dual-credit CTE programs. Curtis said, “It is an amazing opportunity for high school students to graduate with one or more certificates of proficiency in a high demand skill. Something our school is very proud of is that CTE dual credit courses are completely free to high school students.” Curtis also said, “If a high school student wants to continue on from these certificates, they have a direct pathway towards an associate degree. Our CTE program provides opportunities for all high school students to obtain a high demand job quickly and efficiently.”
Local school districts see the value in CTE programs and are constantly investing in their students. Charlotte Leon, Assistant Principal for Student Advancement at Texas High School, spoke about the numerous CTE programs at Texas High and their highly qualified, passionate and experienced instructors. Leon said, “Mark Ahrens, a Computer Science and Robotics teacher at Texas High School, was recently selected among thousands of teachers as a 2021 Amazon Future Engineer Teacher of the Year Award recipient. He received a prize package of $30,000, which includes $25,000 to expand computer science and/or robotics education and a $5,000 teacher cash award.” Leon also spoke about a new initiative being implemented at Texas High called Camp ROAR. “This camp is to excite and motivate students for a CTE pathway and to showcase the many opportunities for obtaining a high demand job after graduating from high school,” Leon said. “We are molding and promoting our future by investing in our students and these CTE programs. The Tiger Family is phenomenal, and we want what is best for our students and for them to be successful.”
Pleasant Grove ISD has big goals for developing students into productive, successful, and well-rounded citizens. Jennifer Gibson, Director of Career & Technical Education at Pleasant Grove High School, said, “Pleasant Grove ISD has taken full advantage of the opportunities offered by the Texas Education Agency to grow and enhance the Career and Technical Education programs over the past seven years. Through the expansion of programs within 13 career clusters, we have a full course offering to guide our students into careers that best suit their interests and the needs of our community.” Gibson also said they are able to offer 35 industry-based certifications within various programs. PGISD currently leads the region in certifications earned by students. In 2021, PG students completed the year with 244 certifications earned.
Liberty-Eylau ISD also serves as a leader in innovative CTE programs in our area. Linda Block, CTE Director and Assistant Principal at Liberty-Eylau High School, said a wonderful aspect of the LE CTE program is that it combines both hands-on and academic elements. For example, their construction and welding CTE students are using the fractions and equations they learn in the classroom in real-world experience. Block went on to say that CTE programs allow students who struggle in a traditional classroom the opportunity to succeed and learn in a unique setting. Many times, they see students who are uninterested in a traditional classroom flourish in a CTE course where they can see the purpose and meaning behind traditional academic methods.
The future of CTE programs in our twin cities and across our nation will heavily focus on ever-changing, innovative technology. Studies project that by 2050, all cars will be electric. Imagine how much that one projection will change the way automotive courses and programs will be taught around the world. Career and Technical Education is imperative to the success of our workforce. What has been seen as the last resort should be considered a top option to all students. Dr. Jason Smith, President of Texarkana College, says, “College IS for everyone.” Whether it’s a certificate in welding, an associate degree in industrial maintenance, or a dental assisting certification, college is in fact for everyone. The next time you or someone you know is contemplating education or a new career path, make sure Career and Technical Education is considered from the beginning. To put it simply, CTE is serving at the forefront of our future.