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Why more students are choosing technical training instead of — or before — college

While enrollment is growing slightly in colleges and universities, career and technical education (CTE) programs are increasing dramatically.

The  National Student Clearinghouse says undergraduate enrollment in four-year colleges has grown by just over 1% since 2021. But in the past year, enrollment in certificate programs grew by almost 10%.

The East Valley Institute of Technology, or EVIT, has two campuses in Mesa and offers training in technical trades to high school students and adults throughout metro Phoenix. This year, its enrollment increased by 1,000. 

EVIT Superintendent Chad Wilson says attitudes about post-secondary education changed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"America saw the work that we do here is what kept our country running, and I think that carries with it value," he said. "I think that carries with it an awareness that maybe people didn't have about the trades."

Wilson also said CTE programs help students who don’t thrive in a traditional classroom setting.

"Whether it’s math in construction, whether it’s language arts in broadcast journalism, whether it’s science in cosmetology, there are a number of students that flourish here having to understand some of those concepts that they may not flourish or haven’t flourished in their home high school," he said.

But this doesn't mean college enrollment won't recover. Wilson says that many students will get there, but it won't be right after high school.

Instead, a CTE program could be a springboard to college, especially if it offers an associate degree. And this will open more paths for students to pursue their interests.

"That’s where I think you see all the different rivers kind of feed into the same lake, but they’re not isolated rivers," he said. "Sometimes they kind of cross one another so that we make sure we’re providing what our students need at the time that they need it."

At WestMEC, a CTE institution serving the West Valley, almost 70% of its 2022 graduating class pursued further education.

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Naomi DuBovis was an intern at KJZZ in 2023.