Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Flush with Cash, Ranken Tech Searches for Students to Spend It On

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Flush with Cash, Ranken Tech Searches for Students to Spend It On

Article excerpt

Ranken Technical College is flush with cash, but struggling to find students to spend it on.

Over the past year, a number of big sponsors including Emerson, the Taylor Foundation and Anheuser-Busch have donated millions to different organizations, including Ranken, to fund scholarships, internships and youth employment programs in north St. Louis County.

The donations are part of the Ferguson Forward initiative set up by St. Louis-area businesses last year to address economic disparities in poor areas.

Ranken has received about $6 million. The money is supposed to be doled out over five years to pay for transportation, food, books, uniforms and tuition.

But Ranken's staff is finding it difficult to attract students. Since fall 2014, Ranken has recruited just over 100 Ferguson Forward students.

Overall, Ranken enrolls 2,100 students on a campus that could hold more than 5,000.

The problem is probably a combination of factors.

Technical colleges, also known as vocational schools, have found it difficult to get past the stigma that they are second-rate schools for students not good enough to get into a four-year college.

Secondly, and more quietly, there's a belief in higher education circles that high school counselors are less likely to steer students toward technical colleges, either because of the stigma or out of unfamiliarity with technical schools.

Another possibility is that technical colleges don't do a good enough job marketing themselves.

If that's the case, it's especially problematic considering that nonprofit technical colleges such as Ranken are often in direct competition with for-profit schools such as ITT Technical Institute and others that spend huge money advertising on television.

Gary Hutchinson, an executive with the national Association for Career and Technical Education, said the stigma was real and harmful.

"When we think of education, we think of the four core areas math, science, English and social studies. We should be thinking of career and technical education as the fifth core area, but we don't," he said.

And an untold number of young people find themselves pursuing career paths that don't suit their skills, Hutchinson said, because "it's difficult for a lot of counselors to understand the value technical education provides for students. …

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