Students trained at high school, find job after high school.

The rebirth of Louisiana’s career and technical education system could become one of the state’s biggest education success stories in recent years.

Not only has the number of students graduating with career diplomas skyrocketed. Some new high school graduates are landing jobs paying $40,000 or $50,000 per year or more, and starting careers that are in no danger of disappearing.

“I believe there has been a paradigm shift in Louisiana from ‘everyone has to go to college’ to ‘there are multiple, excellent options for all students,’” said state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, an engineer herself.

welder
Under the “Jump Start” program, high school students can learn how to weld and then go from high school straight into a job as a welder.

The program, called Jump Start, was launched by the state Department of Education in 2014 and has long been a key focus for Superintendent of Education John White. The push was aimed at reviving a program that was all but dead in public high schools.

In 2018, more than 1 in 5 students (about 9,500) finished high school with a career diploma.

“Students to have the opportunity to be successful in the workforce,” said Ken Bradford, assistant superintendent in the state Office of Student Opportunities who oversees day-to-day Jump Start operations.

“We would like for those students to have the opportunity to be successful in the workforce,” said Ken Bradford, assistant superintendent in the state Office of Student Opportunities who oversees day-to-day Jump Start operations.

Troy Borne, lead Jump Start teacher at the St. James Parish Career and Technical Center, said the success stems in part from changing a mindset.

“We have pushed students and families that ‘you have to go to college, you have to go to college,’” Borne said.

“Because of that we have created a skills gap,” he said. “Now the push is to create career and technical education to close that gap.”

Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed told the convention her late uncle was a master carpenter who took great pride in his craft. “There is honor in all pathways,” Reed said.

The push has not come without growing pains.

The state is about to launch Jump Start 2.0, in part because lots of the early credentials were not aligned with high-need, high-wage jobs.

The number of pathways — the sequence of nine courses needed for an industry-based certificate — would be trimmed from around 40 to 11 under a plan set for review in March by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“So we have a Jump Start we can actually explain to business,” White told the convention last week.

The changes would take effect for freshmen students in the 2020-21 school year.

Another challenge is the stigma still linked to career and technical education.

“I still hear this phrase, ‘That kid is a Jump Start kid,’” White said. “We have to change that or so much of this is a missed opportunity.”

Under new state rules, career and technical education students will be eligible to be named student of the year.

Those who pursue post-secondary training in construction will be eligible for $1,000 scholarships, with up to 40 per year offered.

Originally published in the Abbeville Meridional, February 4th, 2020