College Alternatives On the Rise
By ALAN OLSON
WHEELING — While many students may feel pressured to go to college immediately after graduating high school, many local programs are offered as alternatives to the four-year college experience, with those same activities extended to non-traditional students who may find themselves in need of new learning opportunities.
With many eagerly awaiting news of economic development in the Ohio Valley, most prominently the proposed Dilles Bottom ethane cracker plant, demand for skilled personnel is expected to rise.
Larry Tackett, vice president of Economic & Workforce Development at West Virginia Northern Community College, said job prospects are high for those graduating from the program, and demand for those jobs are expected to increase, as is demand for the more specialized applied science courses such as Petroleum Technology and Advanced Manufacturing.
“Our petroleum technology class that just graduated, all but one got a job in their field … ,” Tackett said.
“Welders, too, find there’s no shortage of possibilities for them, and from what we know with the cracker up north … and if one comes down here in Moundsville, there are jobs that are going to need over a thousand welders a year from now.”
Tackett added that non-traditional students at Northern are quite common, as many people find themselves returning to further their education, often due to a need to change career for a variety of reasons at any age.
“The average of most students is their late 20s,” Tackett said. “I went over to one of the petroleum classes, there were a couple people who were right out of high school and one other man who looked to be well over 50 years old. There’s a mix of ages, and that’s the norm with community colleges.”
While most trades and vocations require hands-on class sessions and a physical presence in class, students pursuing other programs while working full-time may find benefit in online classes.
These offer solutions for students who are unable to drive to class due to limitations on their time or resources.
“The majority of our classes have an online element — our general education courses, those can be taken online,” said Jill Loveless, vice president of Academic Affairs at WVNCC. “Students could get an associate degree in, for example, arts. You can take all of your classes online, or you could choose to take some on campus. A lot of students like to take math in person, for example.
“We do have several of those degrees.
“… Students can mix and match based on their needs. Overall, we have 633 students enrolled in an online class.”
Loveless added that one course, health information technology, is exclusively available online and could lead to a career right out of school. Around 50 students are enrolled in that program.
“They learn medical terminology, billing and coding, how to work in medical offices,” Loveless said. “They would earn an associate in applied science. It’s a direct career path.”
Vocational training for many trades is available at area high schools for students who either want to pursue a job right out of school, or as a backup for students who may just want to learn how to work with their hands.
John Marshall High School, in Marshall County, is host to several such courses, where studies take place in simulated workplaces so students can learn the skills — and earn the certification — to progress in their chosen fields.
Machine shop teacher Bill Metzner said he sees numerous students in shop class go on to pursue careers in the business.
“It’s kind of a field that’s dying away,” Metzner said.
“There was an industrial center, there were lots of machinists and they learned how to do it, but as the mills died, so did the trade and so did the people who knew how to do it, because there was nowhere to learn.”
Metzner said that, locally, the only place that offers apprenticeships in metalworking is Mull Machine, part of the Mull Group centered in Wheeling, which offers a four-year journeyman program. However, he’s had some success taking passionate students from the program and placing them directly in the workforce.
“A lot of (students) go into a CTE class — they don’t necessarily want to be a mechanic or machinist, but they join with what interests them most.
“But every year since I’ve been here, the kids who wanted to went on to be machinists and got the jobs.
“… They’re at Warwood Tool, Tri-State Machine. There’s several now who want to be machinists who’ve stated that, and I’m lining them up for internships, placing five or six there … and instead of spending their afternoons here, they’ll just go to work.
“And if it works out, they’ll get hired as soon as they’re out of school.”
Other trade programs offered at JMHS include welding, broadcasting, agriculture and auto body, each of which involves the same simulated workplace environment.
Welding instructor Jayson Summers said one of the more beneficial parts of his class is instruction in interviewing.
“I try to get them to introduce themselves — a lot of them are still kind of backwards,” he laughed. “That comes later.”
“Even the ones who don’t plan on going onto this field, a lot of times they’re the hardest working students I have,” Summers added.
“They just want it as a fallback, they just want to be able to fix stuff at home. But even that, they’re still learning — show up on time, be responsible, clean up your own messes.