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A four-year college degree has long been considered the best way to prepare for the jobs of the future — but a new generation of students is increasingly seeking alternative approaches. Anxiety about student loan debt is one factor, as is the burgeoning population of students who are the first members of their family to pursue some form of higher education. Another factor is the nature of the jobs available. According to the National Skills Coalition, more than half of the jobs in the United States are “middle-skill” — jobs whose requirements require skills somewhere between a high school diploma and a traditional four-year degree. That is one reason why a “one-size-fits-all approach to higher education no longer works for many — and why the future may lie in more focused, short-term programs in the career and technical education (CTE) sphere.

The rise of CTE

“There is a huge need for workers in entry-level jobs in fast-growing industries like healthcare,” says Dr. Fardad Fateri, president and CEO of International Education Corporation (IEC), a national provider of career education programs.

The growing divide between the skills acquired in the traditional higher education experience and the skills that are needed in the available careers has driven a renewed interest in, and support for, CTE programs. These programs offer shorter routes to a degree (often in less than 10 months), lower costs, and a tighter focus on landing a job right out of school. These factors have driven public interest in the CTE sphere; in 2018 alone, state legislatures passed 85 CTE bills, and, at the federal level, congress reauthorized the 2006 Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which gives the states more control over more than a billion dollars in grants aimed at CTE programs. This benefits people who never considered a four-year college an affordable option — in terms of time or money — but who nevertheless want to pursue a degree that grants them access to a rewarding and lucrative career.

More than just a degree

To fulfill these potential benefits, Dr. Fateri believes short-term career training programs must offer a few key aspects: career advising, and hands-on experience through externships or apprenticeships and faculty active in their field.

“At IEC, we consider externships to be an important part of the curriculum,” Fateri says. “The students get to apply what they’ve learned in a real work environment with an employer who may ultimately hire them.” These types of programs offer a huge advantage; the U.S. Department of Commerce reports that a staggering 91 percent of apprentices find employment after they complete their program, with an average starting salary of $60,000.

Fateri stresses that students considering a CTE program should look for schools that offer career counseling “from the beginning,” but also notes that they should choose programs that employ instructors who are also practitioners in their field with significant experience, as this allows them to acquire real-world, relevant skills in their chosen field.

These real-world elements are important to the new generation of students, says Dina H., a student in the Pharmacy Technician program at IEC’s UEI College. “We get time in the lab to work on our skills every day. The classes are small enough to allow for one-on-one time with the instructors and the instructors are professionals in the fields they teach.” Kaitlyn L, studying to be a Pharmacy Technician at IEC’s Florida Career College shares, “The part about the program I love is the hands-on learning aspect — the simple fact that I can get a first-hand real-life example and experience of what is to come.”

In an educational climate shadowed by debt and a job market undergoing a fundamental transformation towards middle-skill positions, CTE programs offer clear rewards with lower costs. “Our students want to build a future they can be proud of,” Dr. Fateri says. “We take that responsibility very seriously.”For more information about these programs visit www.ieccolleges.com.

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