By Mike Barkett
Graduation season is a time to celebrate one of life’s most important milestones. The choices that students are making now will determine the course of their future lives and livelihoods. Naturally, we want them to pursue rewarding careers that provide long-term financial stability along with opportunities for advancement.
Many of Mississippi’s best and brightest students are choosing career and technical education programs as their preferred paths to success. Even though these programs are attracting many of our top-performing students, the belief still persists that career and technical education is a last resort for students who can’t excel in traditional, four-year degree programs.
The Mississippi Construction Education Foundation is doing its part to remove this stigma by educating the public about the tremendous potential of these career tracks and the success stories they’re producing for students who choose them. There’s an ever-expanding body of research proving that career and technical education is making a dramatically positive impact on student outcomes, and that the earnings potential for these graduates is on par with many four-year degree programs.
A recent study by Mississippi State University’s Research and Curriculum Unit confirms that career and technical education students have higher graduation rates and are more likely to be involved and stay engaged in their coursework. These students had a four-year graduation rate of 83.9 percent, compared to 75.5 percent for Mississippi high-schoolers overall.
MCEF is the leading provider of craft training in high schools, community colleges and apprenticeship programs across Mississippi. We partner with the Mississippi Department of Education to deliver craft training programs to 5,000 high school students enrolled in more than 100 career and technical education centers across Mississippi. Programs include carpentry, electrical, HVAC, masonry, sheet metal, industrial maintenance, construction trades and welding.
MCEF also has articulation agreements with 15 community colleges that enable graduates of our four-year apprentice program to receive up to 32 academic hours. Our craft-training programs have an 80 percent graduation rate, while apprenticeship programs have a graduation rate of 100 percent.
Today’s career and technical education programs are light years beyond what you may remember as “shop” class back in the day. These professions have been profoundly transformed by the computer age. Students must be able to quickly grasp new technologies and master multiple and complex skill sets. The coursework is challenging and requires academic rigor as well as critical-thinking skills. To be successful in these programs, students must be disciplined in their work ethic and knowledgeable of safe work practices and behaviors.
Students enrolled in MCEF programs are some of the most intelligent, talented and motivated people you’ll ever meet. They could excel at just about any degree program they set their sights on, and many of them go on to complete four-year degrees in fields such as engineering and architecture. Others are interested in starting careers directly after high school, and thanks to the variety of training programs now offered in Mississippi, 21 percent of high school graduates successfully transitioned to careers last year.
I’m proud of the role that MCEF continues to play in making sure these aspiring professionals have the training and resources required to achieve their dreams. Considering the reach of these programs across Mississippi, you may have a son or daughter, brother or sister, spouse, relative, friend or neighbor enrolled in one of our career and technical education programs. When you get a chance, let them know how impressed you are by their focus and dedication―and how proud you are of the investment they’re making in their futures.
As a former educator, Mike Barkett has seen the tremendous benefits of helping young people find their place in the world. In his current role as president of the Mississippi Construction Education Foundation, he is working to introduce today’s students to opportunities that await them in career and technical positions.