How CTE Changed My Life

Tana Black 2017-02-3



February is Career and Technical Education Month®, and not long ago, we asked our members to share their experiences on how studying at a CTE school rather than  a traditional 4-year college had affected their lives and careers. Here’s Steve’s story:

My story may be different than most, but I know I’m not the only one with a similar story. 

I graduated high school with honors, a wife, and a four month old baby.  Traditional college was not in the cards for me.  I had taken two years of auto mechanics in high school and was already a pretty good mechanic.  Not too long after graduation, I was given the opportunity to enroll in a diesel mechanics certificate program at South Plains College in Levelland, TX.  After completing that program, I got a job as a mechanic making better money than most every one I knew in my age range.  After gaining some “real world” experience, I got a job at Dallas Area Rapid Transit in what was then their prestigious “Overhaul Shop,” and earned not only good pay, but outstanding benefits.  I worked there for almost 10 years, and made better money than lots of my degreed friends. 

After health issues required that I change professions, I did an intensive (40 hours a week in class) computer programming certificate program at El Centro in Dallas where I learned to program COBOL.  I worked for Neiman Marcus, The Dallas Morning News and Computer Sciences Corporation.  I helped avert the end of the world by fixing Y2K coding problems.  I made better money than most people I knew while I was programming.  Unfortunately my job was offshored to India, and I decided to get out of the tech industry for a while. 

Now, at 56 years of age, I’m about to finish my first degree, an Associates of Applied Science in Computer-Aided Drafting and Design.  CADD probably won’t pay quite as well as COBOL did, but I’ll like it better, and I expect considerably less stress.  It will pay plenty well too. 

I still don’t have a bachelor’s degree, probably never will, but I bet if you look at the cost of my education as a percentage of the income provided by that education, it is substantially less than most Bachelor degrees would cost.

A certificate program right out of high school fed and clothed my babies pretty well.  It improved my quality of life far beyond what would have been possible otherwise.  I believe that many times, the folks just coming out of high school just don’t know what they want to do for the rest of their life, and some just aren’t interested in going to college.  For those people, CTE might be the best option out there. 

If I wanted to get a bachelor’s today, I’d do it.  There’s nothing stopping me but a lack of desire.  I just don’t see where one would benefit me enough to justify the cost.  But I’ll tell you what I know.: There are lots of people who wished they’d have done something fun, like learning how to weld, or fix an air conditioner, or maybe build an engine, before they started college.  They’d have had a better idea of what they wanted to study, made better grades, and gotten more out of the education they paid for.

Steve Shipley
NTHS Member at Collin County Community College
Frisco, TX