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Students crowd vocational schools

Economy influences many to hit the books to pick up new skills

Posted: February 15, 2009 11:21 p.m.
Updated: February 16, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Deborah Shields, RN Instructor, center, works with a class of nursing students at Charter College on Thursday. Enrollment at the college is up 35 percent as displaced workers of other industries retrain in the medical field.

In January 2008, Charter College in Canyon Country counted 80 students.

By January 2009, that number swelled to 311 students as the economy saw a significant slowdown, prompting many to hit the books to pick up new skills.

"When jobs are slow, the school really does well because we primarily focus on careers in the health field and those careers don't experience as much as a slowdown," said Raelene Vanek, president of Charter College's Canyon Country campus.

Charter College's focus is training students for the workforce.

"We want the student to be prepared to go to work and we want to provide a qualified workforce for our employers in the community," Vanek said.

The majority of students come from the Santa Clarita Valley and most typically want to find a job close to home.

"We're the neighborhood school. They want to stay in the area," Vanek said.

The college, which has campuses in Lancaster and Long Beach, offers seven programs, ranging from dental assisting to massage therapy and legal assistant.

The health care programs typically draw the most interest from students as health care remains a relatively strong industry.

"A lot of people will cut out things that they can't afford, but most people are going to continue to take care of their health needs," Vanek said. "Certainly as baby boomers are aging, people are living longer.

There's more and more demand for the medical field."

The vocational nursing program runs for 14 months and is often the most popular program.

"A lot of (students) have goals to go on to become a registered nurse or a physician's assistant," Vanek said.

Charter College, formerly known as Clarita College, offers student funding opportunities, like Pell Grants and student loans, Vanek said.

About 90 percent of students are on financial aid, she said.

The college offers daytime and nighttime classes because a majority of students work full time during the day and often have families.

Charter College students range from high school graduates to people in their 50s and 60s who want to start a new career.

Because Charter College teaches job skills, students take part in externships, which places students in the field working at a company related to their program.

Often times, employers hire students after their externships, Vanek said.

Inside the classroom, students experience lectures and hands-on lessons.

ITT Technical Institute in Sylmar, the closest ITT campus for Santa Clarita Valley residents, has seen an increase in the number of students in the past few quarters, said Jonathan Hayward, dean of the Sylmar campus.

"We typically get a quite a few students from the Santa Clarita Valley," he said.

In January, ITT Tech counted 50 more students when compared to 2008, he said.

The "significant" jump marks a 6 percent increase in students, he said.

Like Charter College, ITT Tech students attend the school to end up in a better job market.

"We only implement programs that will lead people into jobs that are in high demand," he said.

The five schools, which together offer 13 programs, offers associate and bachelor degrees for students.

Many students enroll in the criminal justice program.

"I think it's because of the popularity of shows like ‘CSI,'" he said, referring to the network television show.
"It draws interest. Students are always fascinated by forensic sciences. There's a huge job market in so many areas that have criminal justice background."

Programs like information technology, health information technology and computer drafting and design teach the necessary skills for the jobs that are in high demand.

"We typically want to get them working," Hayward said.

Most of ITT Tech students come straight from high school and take classes in the evenings.

"We're stuffed on the evenings. We're packed," he said.

Schools like Charter College create new careers for its students.

Dikla Mishraki, 26, worked as a supervisor at Target before enrolling at Charter College's vocational nursing program.

"Nurses are in demand and they make good money. They're always needed," said Mishraki of Palmdale.

Troy Gunter, 46, spent 20 years in the shipping and receiving industry until his wife encouraged him to return to school as a full-time nursing student.

He hopes to graduate this year and plans to one day work in an ER or for a county hospital.

He expects to graduate in June to a new career.

"I'm amazed at how much I've learned in a short time," Gunter said.


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