Surgical Technician Program

A student pulls IV fluids for a surgery simulation in the laboratory at Delgado Community College.

Delgado X-ray Tech Program

Students practicing on a model in Delgado Community College's X-ray technician laboratory.

COLLEGE ISN'T FOR EVERYONE. It’s a hard truth to swallow, especially for students who find themselves disinterested or disheartened during their tenure at a four-year university, and those who’ve been preached to their entire academic lives about the absolute necessity of a college degree. But there are alternatives to a traditional university route.

The 1990 Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act defines post-secondary vocational education as “organized educational programs offering sequences of courses directly related to preparing individuals … [for] emerging occupations requiring other than a baccalaureate or advanced degree.” While the ’90s saw a general decrease in the number of high school graduates enrolled in these courses, enrollment is on the rise— The National Center for Education Statistics published a report in fall 2016 that shows 38 percent of all undergraduates are enrolled at two-year or less-than-two-year institutions. In fact, 49 U.S. states enacted nearly 250 policies to support vocational programming in 2017, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.

Harold Gaspard, dean of Delgado Community College’s Allied Health Division, a unit of Delgado’s Workforce Development and Technical Education department, touts the school’s extensive catalog of vocational programs.

“There are 28 different professions and three levels of nursing just in our health care programs, and three of those programs are unique to the state,” Gaspard says.

Delgado EMT Program

Students work on a simulator in the Emergency Medical Technician program at Delgado Community College.

Delgado’s offerings also include studies in business, pre-electrical engineering, pre-architectural engineering, drafting, arts and humanities, sociology, psychology, criminal justice and culinary arts, and attract students from an array of educational backgrounds.

“We have lots of older, nontraditional students, who maybe tried college and now want to try something else,” he says. “We also have lots of returning students, and even (doctorate) holders.”

Gaspard says the traditional trade school has fallen by the wayside — most vocational courses now are college-credit-based, which means vocational students are eligible for federal student aid including loans and grants.

“We have a large percent of students on Pell grants,” he says, “as well as some merit-based scholarships. As long as they’re credit-based (classes), they qualify. Seventy percent of our students are on financial aid.”

A typical vocational program will take about 60 to 65 hours to complete, and federal aid for these programs maxes out at 95 credit hours. If a student has used federal aid for college courses before beginning an eligible vocational program, it’s possible to appeal funding used for dropped courses and have that aid reinstated, especially if the student is close to completing the program.

Gaspard says many students come into vocational programs knowing what career they’d like to pursue. Some of Delgado’s programs are more popular than others, such as nursing, X-ray technology, physical therapy and polysomnography, or sleep studies.

Polysomnography Program

Students practice using a BiPAP machine in Delgado Community College's Polysomnography (sleep studies) program. 

“For a while, medical coding was really hot,” he says. “But these programs have a limited number [of students] that they can accept, so our instructors carefully advise students and really look at their grades and expose them to other professions if they’re struggling or on the borderline.”

While the popularity of vocational programs has surged, public opinion of them hasn’t kept up with the trend.

“Vocational programs are a tough sell sometimes,” Gaspard says. “Most kids are on a college track and that’s what they’ve been indoctrinated to do. But there are so many students that don’t want that route … and many of our students continue on. Most of [Delgado’s] credits will transfer to other institutions. We’ve had a lot of physicians come through our allied health programs. It’s really not a stigma [to attend vocational school], especially in health care. It’s a good start.”

Delgado actively recruits students for its Workforce Development and Technical Education programs by hosting a few annual functions on campus for high school juniors and seniors. The on-campus recruitment events are very hands-on, especially for the allied health fields. Many departments have their own dedicated labs and simulators, which are open for exploration during these events.

“The surgical technician program, the funeral service program — they all have labs on campus,” Gaspard says. “The labs are really first-class. Most of them are really state-of-the-art. Hospitals would love to have [our] ultrasound lab.”

Another advantage of vocational training is that job placement is virtually guaranteed. The programs offer close contact with the industries into which they feed and many networking opportunities, and graduates of these programs often need little or no orientation or on-the-job training upon hiring. Because of the clinical component of their courses, students in the allied health fields are at 100 percent placement within months of course completion, Gaspard says.

“[Vocational training] works,” Gaspard says. “It’s a lot of students — the need is there, both for the education and the workforce. … I had a sonogram (recently) and it was one of our students performing the exam.”