Trade School Enrollments Increase

August 1, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Technical and career-oriented education has seen a rise in enrollment in the past few years as high school graduates forgo traditional education and the work force goes back to school.

Davenport University Executive Vice President for Academics and Provost Tom Brown said the new W.A. Lettinga Campus is attracting a high number of high school graduates. He said the dorms are already full for the upcoming school year.

“We’ve experienced a significant increase of high school graduates for this fall,” he said. “The new campus is helping quite a bit.”

Numbers have been rising for the last three years, Brown said, as the university has actively established better relationships with high schools.

“We have attempted to recruit more immediate high school students in the last few years,” he said. “We’ve gotten more, not only because of our effort to recruit them, but for some reason, there seem to be more immediate high school grads who are interested in staying closer to home, working part time and going to school.”

Brown said he was not sure if that was a reflection of the economy or of interest in the curriculum Davenport offers. Davenport also is offering more scholarships to recent high school graduates and has reintroduced athletics into its program.

High school students who come to Davenport are not as interested in a traditional college experience, Brown said, as in a career.

“Everything we do is designed with the intention of helping students get jobs and build careers,” Brown said. “The overwhelming majority of our students come to us solely for the purpose of advancing their careers,” he said.

Another option for high school students looking to go straight into career training are specialized programs such as those at Chic University of Cosmetology and in the Hospitality Education Department at Grand Rapids Community College.

Bob Gibner, admissions director for Chic University in Grand Rapids and Standale, said that in the average class of 25 students, 65 percent to 70 percent are made up of recent high school graduates.

Enrollment numbers have been rising since 2000, when Gibner started. Chic opened a Standale location in 2002 in addition to the existing Grand Rapids and Portage locations. Gibner said the classes for 2005 are full, with some students on waiting lists or enrolling for 2006 classes.

“We generally reach capacity four to five months in advance,” he said.

Students are attracted to the stability and creativity that cosmetology offers, Gibner said.

“It provides good security, and certainly if the person has talent and creativity they certainly can make good money,” he said.

Though recent high school grads make up the majority of students, Gibner said there is a diverse student population with many students preparing to re-enter the work force.

“They see cosmetology as a reliable, valid sense of security for them,” he said.

Randy Sahajdack, program director of the Hospitality Education Department at Grand Rapids Community College, said his program has seen a serious increase in the past few years with enrollment jumping from 280 to 450 students per semester since 2000.

“We are stuffed,” he said. “When the economy is a little uncertain, it seems that community colleges kind of experience an increase in enrollments.”

Sahajdack said he believes people are also interested in the culinary arts program because of the Food Channel.

“It has just heightened the interest of so many across virtually any demographic you can talk about,” he said. “It’s amazing, people’s interest in food and how much more we know about food than we used to know.”

Though he loves a full program, Sahajdack said the popularity also makes it more difficult to get into the program. “It’s a blessing and a curse.”

The program is 50 percent to 60 percent recent high school graduates, he said. Other students include those who wish to have a culinary career or are exploring the idea, retired individuals who have spare time on their hands, and women who are entering or returning to the work force.

ITT Technical Institute also has seen a stable trend of high school students going straight into the program after graduation. Beyond high school students, David Landau, spokesman for ITT Educational Services Inc., said the for-profit education sector is growing, and ITT Tech is seeing a reflection of that in a growth of enrollment, which has climbed at the Grand Rapids campus from 382 students at the end of 2000 to 572 at the end of 2004. Enrollment to date in 2005 is also high at 500.

Landau said the ITT Tech program offers a high level of service and individual attention that students may not find at a large university.

“We work with employers nationwide to tailor a curriculum that prepares our students for careers in their areas of interest,” he said.

While a liberal arts education at a college or university may work for some, Landau said ITT Tech recognizes that is not for everyone.

“We get a lot of students who tried what folks consider to be the traditional university and it didn’t work for them,” he said. “We try extra hard to help them achieve their educational goals.”    

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