Amid a national debate about the necessity of a four-year college degree, the only Harford County magnet school offering career and technical education continues to have hundreds more applicants than available seats.
Harford Technical High School, located in Bel Air, admits students countywide on a competitive basis within each career and technical program offered. Selection criteria include academic record, good citizenship and technical interest in the 19 state-approved programs available. Among those programs are food preparation and management; construction trades; automotive and commercial welding programs; computer-aided design; floral design, and licensed cosmetology. While at Harford Tech or shortly thereafter, students can earn certification or licensure in their respective fields, leading to employment.
According to data provided to The Dagger by Harford County Public Schools, 272 students were selected from a pool of 681 applicants and enrolled as Harford Tech freshman for the 2011 – 12 school year. Of the remaining applicants, 206 students were waitlisted; 116 were “not invited” based on the application criteria; 85 declined to enroll and 2 declined to be put on the waiting list. The number of applications to Harford Tech increased nearly 10% from 2009 to 2011, while the capacity has remained unchanged.
Applicants to Harford Tech come from all nine HCPS middle schools, from the alternative education program and from private schools. More than half of the HCPS applicants for the 2011-12 school year came from Aberdeen, Edgewood and Magnolia middle schools. Students from those three schools also made up more than half of those put on the waiting list and two-thirds of those who were “not invited”.
Asked about the large number of students overall who are turned away each year, Frank Mezzanotte, coordinator of magnet programs for HCPS, said that not all candidates are “viable” based on the application criteria, mostly due to low grades or poor attendance.
Enrollment capacity at Harford Tech is limited by a variety of factors. The Maryland State Department of Education imposes limits that Mezzanotte said are especially felt in fields with the highest demand. Using the Nursing Assistant Program as an example, he said the state limits enrollment to 8 students per instructor.
Teachers are also in short supply in some areas. In the trades and industry, Mezzanotte said the state requires teachers to have at least five years of experience in their field. Once hired, they are required to take teacher certification courses. Mezzanotte explained the supply problem in an email, “In the real world, typically, people in the trades and industry areas are hesitant to take jobs in education, where they will take significant pay reductions from what they make in private industry.”
Physical facilities also restrict the number of students admitted to Harford Tech. For example, Mezzanotte said, Computer-Aided Design & Drafting has 20 computer work stations; Computer & Networking Technology has 20 computer work stations; Printing & Graphic Communications has only 18 computer work stations and Licensed Cosmetology has facilities for only 18 students. He said other limits involve safety, in programs such as Automotive Diagnostics & Systems Repair.
In addition to career and technical programs, Harford Tech must have classroom space for all students to take the academic courses required for graduation.
Where does this leave the hundreds of Harford County students who are turned away from the programs at Harford Tech each year?
While other limitations remain, the lack of physical space might have been resolved with the construction in recent years of several new county high schools: Aberdeen, Patterson Mill, Bel Air, and Edgewood; although none were designed by HCPS with the specialized classrooms needed for many of the programs at Harford Tech.
Nonetheless, the building boom expanded capacity at many schools and combined with redistricting, left some schools with a lot more space than students. Leading the pack are Edgewood and Fallston.
Enrollment at the newly rebuilt Edgewood High School was 532 students under capacity as of September 30, 2011; enrollment at Fallston was 439 students under capacity. Enrollment at both schools is projected to remain well under capacity through 2019.
Space for an expanded Harford Tech might be available in the future, on property adjacent to the school that is currently the site of the John Archer School for special education. John Archer is slated for relocation to a facility to be built on the campus shared by Bel Air Middle and Homestead/Wakefield Elementary schools, but the move is controversial and construction is on hold until funding becomes available.
Other options include having students spilt their high school years between their home schools and Harford Tech, thereby increasing the capacity of Harford Tech programs. School Board Member Bob Frisch, who represents Edgewood and Joppa, has suggested exploring the idea, which Mezzanotte said was similar to the way Harford Tech started out, but he said that student interest was low until the school offered a comprehensive four-year program.
When asked what HCPS offers to students who don’t get in to Harford Tech but who prefer career and technical education over the mainly academic programs offered at their home schools, Mezzanotte provided the following response:
“Regardless of the school a student attends, each student is required to be in a career pathway sequence of courses. HCPS is working to incorporate signature programs into more of the high schools in an effort to offer them to more students (Maryland Teachers’ Academy, Academy of Finance, Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness, Biomedial Sciences, Project Lead the Way/Pre-Engineering). In various high schools within the County, the Work-Based Learning Program (formerly the Cooperative Work Experience Program) exists to afford students the opportunity for job placement and experience while they are in high school. There is also a push to encourage students to enroll in higher level courses (AP, advanced math & science, etc.) throughout the County.”
Below is a recap of the application and enrollment data for the Harford Technical High School Class of 2015: