For more than three decades, federal grants administered through the Perkins Act have helped fund career and technical education (CTE) programs at high schools and colleges all across the country. Now, at a time when CTE funding is desperately needed to help address an ongoing skilled labor shortage, this longtime source of vital funding could be in jeopardy.
Congress authorized the first version of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act in 1984, reauthorizing the law in 1998 and 2006. Though the Perkins Act officially expired in 2016, Congress has repeatedly used budget authorizations to keep the law limping along.
In June of 2017, the House unanimously passed the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, a bipartisan bill to reauthorize and update the Perkins Act. Despite enjoying support from employers, the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE), and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, the bill has yet to be taken up by the Senate.
“As long as the economy and job market are good, and there are good jobs and good wages out there, there aren’t a lot of people screaming and hollering that they need help, so there’s not a lot of pressure on Congress to make an issue like CTE funding a priority,” said Ed Frederick, heavy equipment department chair for State Technical College of Missouri.
A longtime CTE educator, Frederick has learned not to hang his hat on federal funding. Perkins Act funding has declined substantially over the past decade and, at the State Technical College of Missouri – also known as StateTechMo – it now accounts for just 6/10 of 1 percent of the school’s overall budget. State appropriations have traditionally been a significant source of funding for the college but those, too, have decreased in recent years.
In the absence of adequate state and federal funding, CTE educators like Frederick have come to rely on partnerships formed with local businesses. These businesses support CTE programs in a number of key ways, including providing paid internships for students completing heavy equipment applied sciences programs and hiring StateTechMo graduates.
“What we really need at our level is more partnerships with employers,” he said. “It’s up to us, as an educational institution, and our partners to make this work. Any help we get from the state or federal government just makes our job easier – instead of us having to scrape for money and trying to figure out how we’re going to deliver quality education with less and less funding.”
The battle for state and federal funding isn’t the only struggle CTE educators like Frederick face.
“One of the biggest challenges is finding quality applicants,” he said. “Coming out of high school, many of these kids don’t have the skill sets to be successful at a college level without a good remediation course. The companies that hire our graduates not only want them to be technically sound and able to work with their hands, they need to be able to think through problems and have the communication, math, and social skills to interact with peers and customers on a daily basis.”
Additionally, many high school counselors and administrators continue to emphasize four-year paths for most students, despite the many lucrative opportunities that exist for those who work in skilled trade careers.
“Our programs have one to four paid internships over five semesters, and some of our students make $15 to $18 an hour when they graduate,” Frederick said. “Five years down the road, their salary will be in the mid-to-upper $40,000 range, not counting overtime or benefits. A lot of four-year graduates aren’t even in that position.”
Brandon McElwain, director of marketing for StateTechMo, agreed: “On average, 10 years after graduating, our students make more money per year than the average student coming out of a four-year school or community college – that’s something we want people to realize. We have to educate people from the top to the bottom – particularly guidance counselors and school officials – that this is a very lucrative field for students to go into. We shouldn’t be your third or fourth choice, you should consider us from the start because we take students who are intelligent and innovative, and train them for very successful careers.”
To learn more about AED-Foundation accredited programs at the State Technical College of Missouri, please visit www.statetechmo.edu or connect with the school on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Instagram.