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Pandemic hasn't affected enrollment at technical center

"We were really excited that our parents and students were flexible and great to see the commitment from everyone," Hutton said.
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Portrait of african-american student with face mask back at college or university, coronavirus concept.

HARRISONBURG, Va. — There were a few things working against Massanutten Technical Center this year as a direct result of the pandemic.

First, MTC was unable to execute its usual recruitment strategies, which involve bringing in fifth graders, seventh graders and ninth graders and letting them spend "a day in the life of an MTC student," Director Kevin Hutton said.

"We'll have to see if that affects us in the years to come," he said.

And secondly, students had to find their own ride to their home school every day. Unlike city and county high schools, MTC has been meeting in person all year. But because the high schools have not, MTC students were not being picked up from their houses and dropped at their home school before taking a bus to the technical center.

For this reason, students were responsible for finding their own way to their home school, where a bus would be waiting to take them to MTC.

This was a cause for concern, Hutton said. Adding that extra burden to students and families made him wonder whether enrollment would plummet once families realized they couldn't fit this extra step into schedules.

However, the opposite happened. Usually, MTC loses about 50 students in the first few weeks for a variety of reasons, Hutton said. This year, it only lost about 15.

"We were really excited that our parents and students were flexible and great to see the commitment from everyone," Hutton said.

In fact, enrollment has not dropped in the slightest since the pandemic. MTC is still averaging about 950 students, which includes first-year and second-year students. Typically, students enroll for their first year at MTC junior year and then finish out their senior year.

Interest in MTC has not wavered in years. Although MTC is not actively trying to grow its enrollment — it's about the quality of the education, Hutton said — the numbers remain high each year.

Hutton said this is due to two main areas, the first being the hands-on approach to learning. Second, taking classes at MTC gives students a head start in whatever field they are interested in. They are also learning from teachers who have worked in their respective industries.

Whether students graduate from MTC and enter the workforce immediately or attend a community college or a four-year college, they already have a head start in learning the skills and expectations of the industry.

MTC also has a number of community and business partnerships that can lead to mentorships and paid positions before students even graduate.

"We train them for what is at the next level," Hutton said.

Although interest remains high in all programs, it is the health service industry programs that have the highest level of interest, such as dental careers, cosmetology and veterinary sciences. Following that are the building trade programs such as welding, carpentry and electrical careers.

Massanutten Technical Center has a strong performance, according to the Virginia Department of Education. A report that was released based on the 2019-20 school year had 100% of students graduating on time, with a baseline goal of 93%.

In addition, between 96% and 97% of MTC students passed Standards of Learning tests, compared to a baseline goal of 85%.

Perhaps one of the best indicators of the success of a program is placement after graduation. According to this report, 97% of students who graduated from MTC were employed, joined the military or sought additional education.