Class has been in session for a little over a week at Northeast Technology Center’s Pryor Campus, and as students and staff settle in to their routines, they are finding themselves with little elbow room this year.
“Enrollment at this campus is as high as space will safely allow – 496 students – and it’s been that way for the past few years,” said NTC Superintendent Fred Probis. “It’s a good problem to have, and we keep that in mind as we try and find solutions for dealing with the limited space.”
The NTC Pryor Campus accepts students from high schools in both Rogers and Mayes Counties, and while it’s one of the district’s largest campuses, it’s also one of the oldest having opened in 1973. Beginning her 27th year of teaching at the campus, Cosmetology Instructor Debbie Qualls is no stranger to a full classroom.
“For the past several years I’ve interviewed more than 80 students for this program, but only about 40 are selected, and that includes any returning students who are completing their second year,” Qualls said. “This year, I have 44. Those who aren’t selected are placed on a waiting list, but it’s rare to have any students drop out of the program.”
Qualls, who also owns and operates Glamour Studio in Pryor, maintains there are benefits to a high interest in her program.
“The more students who are interested in the program, the more workers we can train for the workforce,” Qualls said. “People tend to only think of hair when they think cosmetology, but with your cosmetology license, you can go a lot of different directions. You can specialize in color, nails, skin care, chemicals and let’s not forget the possibility of being a business owner or sales rep.”
Despite her students’ high and consistent pass rate on the State Cosmetology Board Exam, there are still areas Qualls would like to improve.
“When teaching a skill – like razor cutting – there's a lot of wasted time for the students because if they need one-on-one help, it takes a while for me to get around to each of them,” Qualls said. “It’s important to me that everyone perform thoroughly, properly and be the best they can be.”
NTC administrators are in the early stages of planning a remodel of one of the campus’s now vacant buildings. When the diesel and welding programs moved into their new facility in 2013, the old spaces were left vacant until funds could be saved for a remodel. Part of this vacant space could potentially serve as a new location for the Cosmetology Program.
“If we had a bigger facility, we'd be able to educate more students interested in this field,” Qualls said. “The interest is there, we just don’t have the space to accommodate all those who want to enroll.”
Just down the hill from the cosmetology classroom, Electrical Technology Instructor Rodney Darnell, finds himself in much the same predicament. Now in his third year of teaching, Darnell confesses to studying more as a teacher than he did as a student.
“It’s one thing to do electrical wiring and another thing all together to teach it. Right now I have 41 students – some are first year students, some are second year students, and while most stay only for a half day of training, I have six who attend all day,” said Darnell. “That means I follow three different lesson plans every day.”
Darnell worked for 26 years at GRDA before coming to teach at NTC, and he has firsthand knowledge of the skills gap facing Oklahoma’s workforce.
“Industry is crying out for skilled workers in this type of trade,” Darnell said. “There are lots of jobs in the electrical field, and you can’t argue with the statistics being put out by the Department of Labor – these are good-paying jobs. “
Darnell has seen steady enrollment growth in his program during each of his three years at NTC, but the one area in which he hasn’t seen growth is in classroom and shop space.
“We need space for the modern technology that industry wants us to train on,” said Darnell. “This shop space and classroom are 40 years old – they were designed at a time when students received most of their training from a book. Today’s students learn with technology, and we need the space to incorporate that.”
Darnell’s program is one that will also benefit from the remodel of now vacant buildings on campus. If all goes as planned, he’s hoping to move into a more spacious area next year.
“Just having more space in which to teach and train will be a huge benefit to the quality of training our students receive,” Darnell said. “Apart from that, I’d love to see the day when we can offer two different career pathways in this program: residential commercial and commercial industrial. The more students we can train for industry careers, the better for us all.”