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Allow CTEDs to evolve, meet community needs

When Arizona’s Career Technical Education Districts were created, the idea was to pool resources among school districts to provide career training to meet the workforce needs of business and industry. Voters agreed to tax themselves to create the CTEDs and build central campuses like the East Valley Institute of Technology so that high school students could receive quality, hands-on career training in a cost-effective way. Eventually, the CTEDs evolved to also offer career training for adults. 

Chad Wilson

Now, 30 years since EVIT, the first CTED, opened its doors, the time has come for CTEDs to evolve again – by offering associate degrees. Why? Because Arizona is one of the fastest growing states in the nation, but we have a qualified labor shortage and poor education attainment levels. 

The fact is that since the creation of the CTEDs, many jobs and careers have evolved to require more education, at least an associate degree if the individual is going to advance and thrive in that career. The Center for the Future of Arizona estimates that 65% of all jobs now require post-secondary education and training beyond high school. But currently, 46% of Arizonans 25-64 have an associate degree or better or professional certification. In addition, the Arizona Board of Regents released a report last fall that shows our state lags behind the nation in students who go on to college – less than half of high school graduates enrolling in a two- or four-year college compared to a national rate of 66%. 

In fact, the report said, if Arizona doesn’t do something to improve college-going and college-completion rates, only 16.8% of today’s 9th-graders will graduate from a four-year college by 2029. This not only hurts the students, but also Arizona industry, which will not have the skilled, trained and educated workforce that it needs.

At EVIT, we provide career training that is often viewed and used by some students as an alternative to college. But the reality is that many of our high school students do pursue post-secondary learning opportunities with two out of three going on to college. Also, the number of adults enrolling in EVIT’s post-secondary programs has grown by 54% since 2018. Our high school and adult program completers come out of EVIT with industry certifications, but would be better prepared to advance in their chosen industry if they had an associate degree. We believe that the CTEDs can provide another post-secondary option for Arizona high school students and adults that will increase the number of students obtaining associate degrees and going on to pursue their bachelor’s degree. House Bill 2034, as introduced by Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, would give us that ability in programs identified as being in high demand. 

CTEDs have already shown great success in engaging students and keeping them in school so that they earn a high school diploma. The graduation rate for CTED students is at least 20 percentage points higher than Arizona’s average graduation rate of 78%. At EVIT’s central campuses, where juniors and seniors take a half-day of career training, program completion rates in three of our health-care programs – Dental Assistant, Medical Assistant and Nursing Assistant – are also high, averaging 95%. Those are three of the programs the state has identified as “high demand” where we would like the opportunity to offer our students an associate degree.  

Arizona took the first step last year by approving legislation to allow community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees. The next logical step: Allow CTEDs to offer associate degrees. 

There will always be students who follow the traditional route from high school to college. But HB2034 gives all students – high school and adult – another option that might work better for them. Isn’t that what school choice is all about? 

HB2034 does not seek additional state funding. Instead, students who want to pursue an associate degree with us would pay tuition at a price that we believe we can keep at an affordable rate. This allows the CTEDs to evolve to meet the changing needs of our students and workforce, without increasing the need for tax dollars. 

Doing this without asking for additional state financial support, in buildings already built and paid for by our communities, is fiscally responsible to the taxpayers we serve. 

Chad Wilson is the superintendent of the East Valley Institute of Technology, a Career Technical Education District providing advanced career training to high school students and adults in the East Valley.

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