As Gov. Cuomo calls for free college, CTE programs expand in WNY

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- Governor Andrew Cuomo made his case for free college tuition during his State of the State address in Buffalo this week.

“A generation ago, all you needed was a high school diploma and you really could lead a middle class life,” said Gov. Cuomo.

Later in his speech he said, “You need a college education to compete for most middle class jobs.”

Buffalo Public School vocational programs are changing to reflect the new economy.

“Really in Buffalo we never let go of our past, our blue collar past, we took our vocational programs, we reinvented them we added what we needed to them,” said Katherine Heinle, the program director. “All of our kids start taking college courses and are visiting college as early as ninth grade, we make sure of that.”

Heinle said students can earn up to 16 college credits through the Career and Technical Education program. Grants pay for the credits, earned through local colleges.

“Most of our kids do go onto post-secondary,” said Heinle. “It’s a perception that kids in Career and Tech Ed go right into the field, that’s not actually the case.”

CTE students also may go on to work while they finish high school or attend college.

“Our kids in high school are being courted to start working,” said Heinle. “We have a kid at Burgard who is a welder who goes in the afternoons to weld.”

She told News 4, in some cases, students are earning $40,000 per year plus benefits.

At Erie 1 BOCES, high school junior Quinn Hill told News 4 he was encouraged to try the program by a friend.

“He already has a job right out of high school, probably already has $15,000 in the bank, plans on buying a house, car so he has everything set for him,” said Hill. “I thought I’d give it a shot and I love it.”

Erie 1 BOCES tries to prepare students for both options of going directly into the workforce or heading to college. Program Director Michael Capuana told News 4 a college degree is not the only path to success.

“Majority of our students do go onto college so we do focus on the academic components that are embedded in our CTE programs and work with our home schools very closely to make sure [students are] on track for graduation,” said Capuana. “Students do come through our programs that can go directly into the world of work and have great careers and have pathways available to them beyond the entry level position they might have available to them.”

Hill told us he plans to go on to college and wants to stay in Western New York.

“Solar City is huge here, we’re going to learn about solar panels next year, I know that much,” said Hill. “There’s a lot of possibilities here.”

Erie 1 BOCES is growing and now offers 30 programs. Electrical instructor Garth Merlino has worked for the program for 16 years.

“When I first started my numbers were 8 to 10 students, now I have two classes of 24, we’re full,” said Merlino.

Buffalo Public School’s CTE program is also seeing growth. This year the district opened five new high school programs to teach students about solar manufacturing, software design and graphic animation, and careers in the medical field.

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