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Technical education seeing rapid growth

Sour economy, need for skilled workers challenge UCAT

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As jobs are decreasing in number, enrollment in Utah's trade and technical programs continues to increase, officials say.

"We've experienced good growth, and we've seen the challenges that go with it," said Jared Haines, Utah College of Applied Technology vice president. He said the state of the economy encourages people to go back to school for more training as jobs are less plentiful.

UCAT reported a more than 4 percent increase in the number of membership hours completed when compared to last year, with more than 5.4 million hours of work put in by students. The annual report also shows a nearly 12 percent increase in student head count.

The growth in membership hours — the amount of time students are enrolled — was the highest in UCAT's seven-year history. The number of students served is reported as 41,563, but with additional hours being put in by employees of various businesses, UCAT served nearly 60,000 students in the past year.

"What's remarkable is that this level of enrollment occurred in a year of high employment, when work-force shortages often pressure people to forgo training and go right to work," said Richard L. White, UCAT president. He said career and technical education will continue to play a key part in educating the majority of students not headed to another form of higher education.

"Looking to the future, approximately 65 percent of Utah's population will not earn a bachelor's degree. UCAT plays a critical role in helping citizens prepare for middle-skill jobs desperately needed by Utah's employers."

All but two of UCAT's eight campus locations are experiencing growth, some at a faster rate. The Mountainland Applied Technology campus saw a jump of almost 15 percent more students than the previous year, while the Uintah Basin ATC reported 3 percent fewer student hours, but a slight increase in head count.

Haines said the discrepancies are caused by the fact that many of the students in the Uintah Basin are hired before completing course work due to the high-employment economy in the energy industry there.

The Ogden-Weber ATC launched a machinist marketing campaign driven and funded by employers, according to campus president Collette Mercier. Machinist enrollment grew by 42 percent, "one of several positive factors in our growth over the past year," she said.

UCAT, which was created by the state Legislature in 2001, has requested approval of three new buildings to accommodate the growth. The State Building Board is considering the request.

"We are feeling good about our preparations and our ability to accommodate incoming students as they prepare for their future," Haines said. UCAT focuses on open-entry, open-exit scheduling for competency-based training in jobs needed by the current industry.

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com