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VOCATIONAL STUDENTS OPT FOR CHEAP, SHORT PATH

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More and more Utah students are choosing vocational education over college as a way to save money and time spent toward a career.

"I feel if you are not certain in what you want to do, college could be a waste of time and money," said Eric Christensen, who has taken welding classes at the Davis Applied Technology Center instead of going to college."People that are going on to universities are getting an education in something they probably won't need. They won't need all those unnecessary credits," he said.

During fiscal year 1993, $178 million of Utah's education budget was devoted to applied technology education. Such programs involve public school classes, applied technology centers and college- or university-sponsored courses.

It's hard to find exact numbers, but there is obvious growth. For instance, enrollment at the Davis Applied Technology Center (ATC) has increased from 986 students in 1979 to 9,444 in 1994. Other ATCs in Logan, Ogden, Richfield and Roosevelt report similar situations.

During the 1992-93 school year, adults and secondary students logged 2.9 million hours in the five ATCs, according to Robert Brems, who is an associate superintendent for the Utah Office of Education and oversees applied technology education.

The ATCs are "open-entry, open-exit," which permits students to enter or leave the program when they decide. Subjects include welding, culinary arts, drafting, nursing, farm-business management, construction, automatic technology, heavy-duty-diesel technology, home health aid and maintenance.

Students pay an average of $100 a month. Those concurrently enrolled in public school get their fees waived.

"The people that can really earn a living with low skills are becoming fewer and fewer," Brems said. "Today, you have to have high skills to guarantee that you are going to make a decent wage."

According to the Utah Department of Employment Security, by 2000 only 16 percent of jobs will require four-year degrees or more. That means 84 percent of job seekers will need training but not a bachelor's degree.

"People don't understand the opportunities that are available in applied technology," says Max Lowe, who directs vocational education for the state's higher-education system. "There are some awfully good career paths for students who are not interested in college."