Not all students are destined for a traditional college education. Some will thrive in vocational careers like welding, auto repair or carpentry. That’s especially the case in Wyoming, where the energy industry offers many good-paying jobs that require a skill set developed through technical education.
To prepare students for vocational careers, school districts must employ instructors who are trained in both industrial fields and teaching – a unique but important combination of skills. The right instructor will not only provide the training needed to succeed in a technical career, but will also inspire students who might not have connected with more traditional academics.
That’s why we were critical of the University of Wyoming’s decision two years ago to do away with its program that trains future career technical education teachers. And it’s also why we are glad the university has changed course and opted to restart the program in the 2021-22 academic year. Without it, our state would risk losing a generation of teachers who can help students gain the critical skills they’ll need to graduate high school and succeed in the work force.
The university did not eliminate the program wantonly. At the time, UW was responding to a decline in funding brought on by the energy industry downturn. Administrators reviewed about a dozen program to gauge student interest. That review found technical education suffered from low enrollment: Only 15 students graduated from the program between 2010 and 2015.
But those numbers might not have told the whole story. The program was apparently not well advertised, enough so that some recruiters didn’t even know it existed. And even if the pool of applicants for the program is small, the students who graduate from it will play a critical role in preparing a new generation of students to fill an important need for our state.
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That’s why the decision two years ago to close the program generated such criticism. Teachers who graduated from the program warned that our high schools would stop offering career technical education courses if they couldn’t find qualified teachers.
“Since that time, legislators, school districts and other constituents have made it clear just how important it is for us to graduate career technical educators, and we are responding accordingly,” College of Education Dean Ray Reutzel said in a statement announcing the decision to restart the program.
The University of Wyoming deserves credit for hearing those voices and reconsidering its decision. Wisely, the school says it will maintain the program for two years while a task force, in collaboration with Wyoming community colleges and others, re-envisions the career technical education degree. Hopefully, that task force’s work will result in a more vibrant, well-attended program.
It would have been easy, in the face of criticism, for administrators to dig in their heels. Instead, they listened. Our students, business community and our entire state will benefit from that wise choice.