OKLAHOMA CITY – If lawmakers want to increase the number of Oklahoma residents with postgraduate credentials, they need to make sure that credit hours earned at CareerTech centers are transferable to community colleges and other state-run institutions, the CEO of one of the state’s largest CareerTech centers said Thursday.
Speaking at a daylong meeting of the state Senate’s Education Committee, Tom Friedemann, CEO and superintendent of Oklahoma City’s Francis Tuttle Technology Center, said more students would take courses at a CareerTech center and then transfer to a community college or four-year school if their credits hours would apply.
“The number one reason the students don’t take advantage of this opportunity is the credits are not transferable,” Friedemann said. “When they tell us, ‘I want to go to OSU,’ we can’t look them in the face and say these credits will apply. If we could get past this, I think you would see a lot more participation from CareerTech students.”
For about a year, lawmakers – pushed by Republican Gov. Mary Fallin – have worked to increase the number of college graduates in Oklahoma. In October 2011, Fallin announced an initiative that aimed to increase the number of graduates from 30,500 to 50,900 annually by 2023.
Friedemann said he supported the goal, but urged lawmakers to include the CareerTech system in the initiative and called on them to push for more degrees in areas with a large job base.
“One of our fastest-growing markets is individuals who already have college degrees,” he said. “The reason they come to us is they can’t find the job they want; we’re kind of a postgraduate school for people who already have a degree.”
Too many students get degrees, he said, where jobs are scarce.
“I would contend that we don’t need more degrees in areas where there are no jobs,” Friedemann said. “We need students who can get a degree or a certificate in a field where there is a job waiting for them. We need more people with postsecondary credentials.”
Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Director Phil Berkenbile, who recently announced his retirement, said CareerTech students pay only $8 per hour for college credits.
“Since 2005, we have awarded 470,689 college credit hours,” he said. “I think that’s unbelievable. We have almost 400 cooperative alliance agreements.”
Tony Hutchison, vice chancellor for strategic planning, analysis and workforce and economic development for the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, said the state’s goal was to add about 1,700 new college graduates each year. He said the goal for the CareerTech system was similar.
Both Hutchison and Berkenbile urged lawmakers to make sure students graduating from high school were prepared for college.
“We won’t meet that goal if we don’t get more kids coming out of high school ready to get that degree or that certificate,” Hutchison said.
Patrick McGregor, executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Career and Technology Education, said the system’s cooperative agreements and low costs can benefit students seeking a postsecondary education.
“A study from Harvard University pointed to the fact that more than a quarter of college graduates are returning home to live with their parents because they can’t find jobs,” he said. “And those students are graduating with massive amounts of debt.”
For students in the CareerTech system, Berkenbile said, the financial strain is minimal or nonexistent.
“If they live in the district, they don’t have any student debt,” he said.
Friedemann said his CareerTech center is successful because it expands the programs that warrant it and drops those that don’t work.
“We can turn on a dime,” he said. “Right now, we’re operating at 97-percent capacity. Not long ago our culinary program had a two-year waiting list. Today we’ve tripled its size. We’re working to make our students successful so they have a job waiting for them.”
By M. Scott Carter, Oklahoma City / Capitol bureau reporter. Contact: 405-278-2838, email@example.com, @JRMScottCarter. The Journal Record Posted: 07:49 PM Thursday, October 4, 2012