There are different career paths for every child. Help them find the right one.
Published: May 1, 2019
By: Paige Townley
The rates of high school graduates today going on to college are about as high as ever. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in October 2017, 66.7 percent of 2017 high school graduates age 16 to 24 were enrolled in colleges or universities. That number is just lower than the rater in October 2016 of 69.7 percent.
With the competitiveness of getting accepted into college – at least certain universities – it’s important for students to start preparing early, and there are many different aspects of that students need to consider.
One of those that students don’t often realize affect so many areas of college prep is the ACT. The ACT is not only the entrance exam used by most colleges and universities to make admissions decisions, but it’s also important when it comes to scholarships. Many scholarships, such as the Alabama Merit Scholarship Program, look at the ACT along with a student’s grade point average when it comes to awarding scholarship money, notes Gardendale High School counselor Mary Wilson Kearney. “If students think the ACT is only a test score that factors into potential college admission, they are incorrect,” she says. “Not thinking about the ACT and not being prepared for it can mean you lose out on potential scholarship money.”
Another item students often overlook is creating an academic resume. Many colleges want to see not only the educational achievements a student makes, but also their involvement in other school activities or community activities. “Some colleges will want that for admissions purposes, and many will also want that when it comes to applying for scholarships as well,” notes Shades Valley High School senior guidance counselor Kathy Chatman. Students should start putting that resume together early on in high school, adds Shades Valley High School sophomore counselor Sherillyn McGrew. “I try to get sophomores to start putting their resumes together because a well-rounded resume really helps paint a picture of who they are and everything they are doing,” she says. “Having that also helps counselors as we write recommendations for students when needed.”
That relationship with the school counselor is another sometimes overlooked benefit when it comes to preparing for college as well. Having a relationship with a school counselor can help a student when it comes to those letters of recommendation or even finding out about potential opportunities. “The more the school counselor knows about the student, the more the counselor can do for the student,” Kearney explains. “Just knowing a particular student is interested in a certain career field can help us when we find out about internships or other opportunities in that field.”
More high school students should be taking advantage of dual enrollment opportunities, which gives students college credit before college ever begins. Jefferson State Community College offers dual enrollment programs, which allows students to take certain college courses while in high school that will count toward their high school graduation and provide college credit. “We’re fortunate in that students at Oak Mountain High School have this opportunity, and it’s a great one to take advantage of,” says Oak Mountain High School counselor Pat Holder. “Students can earn up to 18 hours while still in high school, which can help them get classes out of the way early.”
Maybe not Traditional 4-Year College?
While a typical four-year college or university may be the absolute best path for many students upon high school graduation, the reality is that for others, it may not be the right choice. That could be because of the price tag associated with it.
According to the U.S. News & World Report, in-state tuition prices among public national universities have grown by 68 percent over a 10-year period from 2008-2009. In fact, they report the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2018-2019 school year was $35,676 at private schools, $9,716 for state residents at public colleges, and $21,629 for out-of-state students at state schools.
With costs rising, so often does student debt. CNBC reports that more than 44 million Americans collectively have more than $1.4 trillion in student loan debt. And with graduate rates decreasing – CNBC also reports that only 54.8 percent of students graduate in six years – for some students it just doesn’t make sense to take on so much debt. Others don’t choose the four-year college route simply because they are tired of school and rather find a way to get into the workforce faster. Whatever the reason for not attending a four-year college or university, there are many options out there that can help prepare them for a career in a much faster period of time.
One of those options actually allows students to begin preparation while in high school: the Academy of Craft Training. Located at the Alabama Workforce Training Center (AWTC) downtown, the Academy of Craft Training was established a few years ago as a partnership between ABC of Alabama, the Alabama Department of Education Career and Technical Education Department and the AWTC, the program offers students an opportunity to learn a construction trade—building construction, masonry, HVAC/plumbing, welding, and electrical—via the NCCER curriculum, which is nationally recognized for construction training. Students in the program receive simulated workforce training and education, and upon graduation of the program students have credentials to get started in the construction industry. “Our model is to help students learn a craft while still in high school, which gives them the opportunity for a successful career in construction immediately after graduation,” says the Academy of Craft Training’s training and employment coordinator Mark McCord. “With the cost of college today, it’s a great option and helps keeps students debt free. And we have a 99 percent placement rate with our graduates.”
The Construction Education Foundation of Alabama (CEFA) is another option available to students right out of high school (or sometimes even dual enrollment while in high school). CEFA offers training all around the state on trades such as electrical, pipe fitting, HVAC, equipment operator training, sheet metal, and carpentry. Students can work during the day and take courses at night, and it usually takes about 18 months for entry-level training in each trade. Often grant money can even help CEFA work with students to create a lower cost of attending.
The Paul Mitchell School in Hoover trains students on hair, skin, and makeup. The program takes around a year or so and trains them for opportunities to work well beyond just behind the chair, notes the school’s marketing leader Jacob Nance. “Our students are trained to work in salons, spas, barber shops, nail salons, the entertainment industry, and even teaching,” he says. “We have an educators program here, and we give first consideration to our graduates.”
While the Birmingham Police Department offers incentives for applicants with a four-year degree or an associate’s degree, a high school diploma is all the education that’s required to apply. If applicants meet the Jefferson County Personnel Board requirements, passes a physical agility assessment and a background assessment, they can start academy training, which takes approximately 20 weeks. Academy graduates are sworn in and can immediately go into the field, working through a variety of rotations.
Community colleges are great options for all types of students, from those looking to complete two years and then transfer to a four-year university, those looking to get a two-year degree, and then those who want to get into the workforce faster.
Jefferson State Community College offers two-year career and technical programs in all sorts of trades, including culinary, nursing, radiologic technology, and welding, as well as a new respiratory therapy program. The school also offers a fast track career program that provides credentials instead of credits that can take anywhere from six weeks to six months depending on the class. There are many fast track programs, including welding, web development, pharmacy technician, and dental assistant.
Paige Townley is a Birmingham-based freelance writer.