When many high school students no longer could attend the career and technical training programs at Tulsa Tech, the technology center began bringing the programs to them.
The number of Tulsa Tech’s off-campus programs has ballooned in the past seven years. The institute offered eight programs to about 520 students at area high schools during the 2012-13 school year.
In 2018-19, there were 20 programs offered and about 1,350 participating students, data shows. Almost 1,500 students at 15 schools are expected to participate in 22 programs in 2019-20.
This surge came after Tulsa Tech officials noticed a problem with its shared time model, in which students split their day between their own high school and one of Tech’s six campuses.
“What we realized is it’s getting more and more difficult for high school students to leave their high school for half a day due to the number of credits that they have to get to graduate,” Tulsa Tech Superintendent and CEO Steve Tiger said.
Incremental changes mandated by the state over the past decade significantly increased the number of required credits to get a high school diploma in Oklahoma, Tiger said.
Because most of Tulsa Tech’s programs are considered electives for high-schoolers and do not count toward their graduation, he said a lot of students don’t have time to take part.
“Years ago when the required academic credits were less, that wasn’t a big issue,” Tiger said. “But now that the legislators and the state department of education have increased that, it’s kind of whittled away the opportunities for students to explore these options while they’re in high school.”
The solution was to establish career training programs at area high schools.
Tulsa Tech ventured into off-campus programming at a handful of high schools about a decade ago in connection to its STEM Center. That concept was expanded and prioritized a few years later with the focus of making the programs more accessible to students.
Since then, Tech reportedly has invested more than $2.5 million in these programs, which include foundations of manufacturing, engineering and biomedical sciences. Others focus on app development and web design.
The response has been overwhelming. Students received more than 216,000 hours of instruction last year.
Tiger said Tech’s total high school enrollment has increased 40% in the past three years, virtually all of which is because of the high school programs.
“We’re serving more students through this delivery than at any of our six campuses, and I think that says a lot,” he said.
That rapid growth is slowing down, however. Program expansion has begun to plateau, though Tiger said there are a few schools where programs have not been implemented yet.
Reaching more students also helps close the ongoing skills gap between the current and future workforce.
A national study conducted last year by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute shows the skills gap — referring to the mismatch between the needs of employers for skilled talent and the unavailability of those skills within the workforce — may leave an estimated 2.4 million positions unfilled through 2028.
Scott Williams, Tulsa Tech’s associate superintendent for instruction, said partnerships between technology centers and high schools are an example of cooperating in a meaningful way to improve the situation. He believes developing foundation knowledge and skills on a technical level in a format that’s convenient for high-schoolers is essential.
“Embedding Tulsa Tech programs in the high school allows us to be a good partner with our sending schools,” Williams said. “It enables us to provide a level of education which gives students more opportunities to enter a career training program of their choice.”
WPX Energy's 260,000-square-foot tower will be built on the block of property where the old Spaghetti Warehouse was located.