The Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center is looking to expand its programs for adults, and the first step to doing that is becoming accredited.
CATEC offers a range of technical programs and apprenticeships, such as in electrical, automotive, plumbing and nursing, in addition to its classes for high school students. The adult programs are self-funded and offered in the evening. About 340 students were enrolled in March — most of whom were in an apprenticeship.
Shannon Tomlin, the adult education and apprenticeship program manager for CATEC, said becoming accredited would allow the center to offer longer programs that cost more, such as welding. Students would be able to access financial aid, grants and loans to pay for classes. CATEC doesn’t offer college credits, but students have the opportunity to earn a certification or their license.
Accreditation is about 12 to 18 months away. Tomlin is working on the application, which is due in June. Becoming an accredited institution through the Council on Occupational Education would help CATEC grow its programs, update its equipment and offer more hands-on skills training.
“So I really want to grow the adult programs,” Tomlin said. “We’re still doing the same things that we’ve been doing since 1973. I don’t want to get rid of anything that we’re currently doing and we’re really good at that. There’s a lot of community interest. We get calls all the time about certain programs that we don’t offer.”
Tomlin said the programs currently offered do fill up, but CATEC is working to spread the word about its adult classes through an amped-up marketing campaign, new course catalog and social media.
“There’s people that you run into all the time that know the CATEC building but know nothing about what we are, don’t know about the high school side and don’t know about the adult side,” she said. “Students that do come here, they spread the word for us. They are the best marketing that we have.”
Tomlin said the CATEC team is working to expand its role as a community organization. That means offering more one-and-done classes for community members, such as seasonal culinary arts, do-it-yourself home improvement courses and CPR and first aid.
Last month, Tomlin and center Director Stephanie Carter discussed their plans for the adult programs with the CATEC board. The facility is overseen by members of the Charlottesville and Albemarle County school boards, who have expressed support for increasing adult programs.
With accreditation, CATEC could not only add programs but could expand others.
“We also want to be able to expand our medical programs,” Tomlin said. “Not to be able to compete with any of the other providers, but there’s so much demand, and everyone who wants to get into certain programs can’t get into them because there’s limits.”
CATEC hasn’t needed accreditation previously because it’s a public school and approved by the Virginia Department of Education and other state agencies.
Tomlin said CATEC’s “bread and butter” is the apprenticeship programs in which adults get on-the-job training and related technical instruction at the center. An apprenticeship allows students to earn a paycheck while they are working toward a certification or license.
“So a lot of the businesses that we’ve served since then have remained with us,” Tomlin said.
In March, about 146 students were part of the online apprenticeship programs and 115 had in-person apprenticeships.
Since CATEC opened 48 years ago, most of the adult programs have stayed largely the same, Tomlin said. Meanwhile, they get calls inquiring about hands-on, non-apprenticeship programs or classes that they don’t offer, such as welding or cosmetology. Currently, the adult cosmetology, barbering and nail technician program is an apprenticeship with an all-online component.
“Sometimes that’s difficult for students,” she said. “It’s hard, especially now with a pandemic, being able to get into a salon or having a salon sponsor you.”
Growing the adult side of CATEC would mean access to more revenue streams that could help update equipment. That way, students could get experience with more specialized training systems.
“To grow the programs, I really want to be able to change them in some ways and be able to offer more skilled, hands-on opportunities for [students],” she said.
Ultimately, any boost in revenue would be put back into CATEC to offer a better educational program, Tomlin said.
A longer-term goal, for the next five to 10 years, is building a separate facility for the adult and apprenticeship programs on the CATEC site.
“The goal is to be able to plan and share the equity between the high school and the adult side to be able to benefit the community as a whole, not just the adult and apprenticeship side,” Tomlin said. “A lot of programs that we offer are similar to what the high school [side] runs. So together, we can plan and grow and update equipment, and the high school students and any adult students can benefit from it.”