Considering Career Tech Consolidation

Career Tech works with business and industry to make a skilled workforce. (KOKH)

Education is one of the key drivers of Oklahoma’s economy and one of the major recruiting tools for attracting new businesses to our state. However, the state's continuing budget problems have led to less money to go around which is why the idea of consolidation is gaining traction.

“When you have the state operating two different institutions across the street from one another doing basically the same thing, we know we can save some money. The question is how much,” said Trent England with the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

The issue is the similarities between Career Tech Centers and Oklahoma’s community colleges. Critics of the separate systems argue the programs provided are similar, as is the “back-end” functions associated with administration of education facilities.

“There's no reason to have these duplicative systems and these funding silos, that separate career tech and community colleges, there's a lot of room for efficiency if you pull those two together,” England said.

England said it is not clear just how much money can be saved because of the complicated funding system surrounding career tech. Not only does the agency receive state appropriations, but individual career techs are funded through local property taxes similar to K-12 schools.

“I can understand why there is a discussion on that because Oklahoma is an outlier when it comes to the way we handle the career tech system and the community college system,” said Gary Davidson, the executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Community Colleges. “In virtually every other state those are combined.”

Davidson said combining career tech with community colleges is not as simple as some believe. His major concern centers around accreditation. Community colleges in Oklahoma go through a rigorous process to ensure their classes are accredited which means credits can transfer into four-year colleges and universities. It is one of the selling points for community colleges, because students can get basic credits while spending less money and then transfer to a larger school.

“We feel that that is the clearest path to quality of life for our citizens is having a good education,” Davidson said of the mission of community colleges.

He points specifically to the fact that many students go to community college for the sake of their programs or retraining to change careers. Davidson says half of all registered nurses in Oklahoma go through a community college program.

Training to change careers is something Career Tech also boasts as one of its successes.

“Career Tech and the two-year colleges, we have a collaborative approach to opportunities to our students and not a duplicative approach,” said Marcie Mack, the director of Oklahoma’s Career Tech system.

Mack said career tech does what community college cannot, by works with business and industry to make sure a skilled workforce is available where they want to locate.

“Last year we worked with over 7,000 companies through our technology centers to make sure we're meeting their specific needs,” Mack said, “Not only for their future workforce but for current employees that they have now as they may need to re-tool and change with local economies.

Mack says despite the fact that few other states treat career tech as an independent entity, Oklahoma is less duplicative. She said career tech programs reach middle schools, high schools and even prisons and other states often inquire how they can make their career tech programs more expansive.

However, while classes and the extent of classes may be different, the two institutions do offer similar services in administration, registration and career counseling.

England believes that shows there is room to improve, which could free up more money without cutting programs.

“Consolidation has become this dirty word when it comes to education in Oklahoma,” England said, “But voters more and more are coming to recognize we can do consolidation without compromising services.”

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