Utah Valley Community College has, for the moment at least, stopped a downward trend in enrollments to its trades and vocational programs.
After four straight years of decline, enrollment in trades is up 5.4 percent this year. Numbers, however, are down from five years ago.This year's increase hasn't been without some effort. The college allocated all of its promotional money to trade programs, and it formed a public relations committee that recruits high school students and students in general education at UVCC.
But despite the encouraging news, the increase didn't keep pace with the overall growth of the college. It expanded 13.5 percent over last year to 7,758 students. This is the first year that general education students outnumber trade students at the school.
Five years ago, there were 1,755 students in general education. Today, there are 3,890 - an increase of 121.7 percent. Trade enrollments, on the other hand, decreased 4.8 percent in the same period - from 4,054 to 3,868.
The college plans to have total enrollments exceeding 10,000 within three years.
Drafting Department Chairman Doug Jorgensen said many people in the trades area at the college feel it was a mistake to change UVCC from a trade school to a community college. When Jorgensen came to the college more than 30 years ago, it was called the Central Utah Vocational School, then it became the Utah Trade/Technical Institute and then Utah Technical College, until it became a community college about two years ago.
Jorgensen said some people in the trades area of the school feel general education gets more emphasis. He said the trades faculty needs to get together to emphasize the strengths of the trades college.
"We are extremely pleased with the increase and interest we are starting to see in our vocational and trades programs. We believe this signifies a turn-around in the number of students who will enroll in the future and our ability to market our programs," President Kerry Romesburg said.
Dean of Trades, Technology and Industry Joseph L. Raynes said, "We have excellent programs that have more placement opportunities at high starting wages than students to fill them. Companies call us on a daily basis looking for people trained in the vocations and trades to work in skilled positions."
Jorgensen said he once had five job offers for each student, but even now he has 10 recent calls for good jobs with no one to fill them. He said many students, in fact, don't finish the program because of job offers they receive while they are in school. Many of the jobs are better paying than jobs from general education graduates.
Enrollments seem to follow the economy, Romesburg and Jorgensen have said. When the economy is in a recession, more students tend to enroll in trade programs.
Why is it so difficult to attract students?
Jorgensen said many things might be involved: a stigma toward trades, a nationwide and statewide trend away from manufacturing, construction and mining to service-oriented jobs. And perhaps students don't like to get dirty like they once did, he joked.