In the early 1970s, North Dakota embarked on the start-up of several area vocational schools, now called Area Career and Technology Centers. The very first two in North Dakota were Minn-Dak Vocational Center, now Southeast Region Career and Technology Center in Wahpeton, and Sheyenne Valley Career and Technology Center in Cooperstown, both started in 1973.

In the following three years, centers were started in Jamestown, Valley City, Grafton, Devils Lake, Oakes, and a mobile lab center was started in Southwest North Dakota. These centers were started due to workforce needs, changing educational times, and with a “push” from the Vocational Education Act of 1963 and 1968 which provided federal funding and support for Vocational “Career and Technical” Education.

All of these centers were started and supported by local school districts working together for the greater good of their students and financially supported by the newly formed North Dakota State Board for Vocational Education. This educational movement was not unlike what was happening in many states across the nation when hundreds, of regional or joint career centers were starting up. At that time in western North Dakota local schools were extremely independent and areas like Dickinson, Minot, and Williston chose not to work the neighboring schools in this arena.

SRCTC was an early leader in the “joint” vocational school concept in North Dakota, not only being the first, but also the first center with direct affiliation with a post-secondary school, the North Dakota State School of Science. In North Dakota there is a history of a fairly robust two-year college presence on a regional basis with NDSCS, Lake Region, Bismarck State, and Williston State junior colleges so for the most part secondary career centers in North Dakota have had a focus on secondary students.

In states like Oklahoma, career centers like Francis Tuttle in Oklahoma City, Great Oakes in Ohio, or Penta Career Academy in Toledo, Ohio, serve not only secondary students but also post-secondary students in a side-by-side setting. In those states, the university system has a focus on credit granting four-year colleges, and the career/tech, joint vocational schools serve the upper level high school and what we call junior college-career preparation, student needs.

As per gubernatorial candidate Dr. Shelley Lenz, she hopes to see more programs like the joint vocational schools available in Ohio, where she grew up.

“We want to attract more workers to North Dakota and we can also train them locally,” Lenz said. “Why didn’t we have joint vocational schools for our 16 year olds? They can hit the ground running with their careers and be mentored at the high school level.”

The reality is we do, and all of the career centers have dual credit, advance training options for high school students.

They are just not all located on college or career/academy campuses, due in large to our rural, low density population. North Dakota has one of the most robust secondary career and technical education networks in the country and has a very high degree of support from the State of North Dakota via the legislature and North Dakota State Board for Career and Technical Education.

Dan Rood, Jr. is director, Southeast Region Career & Technology Center, Wahpeton, ND

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