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EDITORIAL: Tesla program shows the promise of expanding CTE

Getting a good job doesn’t require a college degree. Just ask the high school graduates earning a salary and college credit while working at the Northern Nevada Tesla plant.

As Tesla has expanded, the company has been searching for workers. In 2017, it hired 13 recent Nevada graduates to work in its plant through a pilot program with local schools. Since then, it has expanded the program to 60 graduates and is actively recruiting.

Seniors interview with Tesla during a trip to the Gigafactory. If Tesla offers them a position, they earn $17 an hour and complete a 20-credit apprenticeship course through Truckee Meadows Community College. At the end of two years, Tesla may offer them full-time positions. Some have already received promotions. Regardless, they leave with a resume boasting full-time employment and a good wage.

They’ve also avoided racking up tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. That alone makes this program worth replicating.

These are the kind of career and technical opportunities that school leaders need to seek out and expand. For too many years, the message from the education establishment has been to funnel more students to college. And for many high school students, getting a four-year college degree makes sense.

But that’s not the case for a majority of Clark County School District graduates, just 27 percent of whom will attend college. Fewer still are prepared academically. In 2015, 53 percent of Nevada graduates had to take at least one remedial class after enrolling in a Nevada System of Higher Education institution. UNLV’s six-year graduation rate is less than 40 percent. These dropouts end up with the worst of both worlds, stuck with college debt but lacking the increased earning power of having a degree.

The good news is that Gov. Steve Sisolak has talked frequently about the need to beef up career and technical education. He has included $2 million in his budget to expand existing programs to 2,000 students. That’s good, but he should do more. If he Is looking for funding, he could redirect the $22 million increase he’s proposed for pre-K. Numerous studies have shown that pre-K doesn’t produce lasting learning gains and potentially increases adverse behaviors.

School leaders shouldn’t wait on state action or funding. They should actively be engaging with the business community to find opportunities for win-win partnerships. The good news is that Superintendent Jesus Jara has already started. On Wednesday, the district and Workforce Connections hosted an apprenticeship summit with local business and labor leaders.

Let’s hope that summit and efforts such as the Tesla program produce many more partnerships. Nevada students are ready and waiting.

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