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Chester County Press

Forum to help navigate school-to-future path for students and their parents

03/21/2017 12:37PM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
Staff Writer

The following kitchen table scenario takes place every day, from Chadds Ford to West Chester to Downingtown to Oxford to Kennett Square, and everywhere in between.
After dinner, a husband and wife sit down with their teenage son or daughter, to begin to lay the foundation for his or her future. They've read the tea leaves; while the concept of marching off to a four-year college immediately after high school may not be appealing to their son or daughter, he or she has demonstrated an early aptitude for computers, or electronics, or automotive repair, or cosmetology or engine technology, or early childhood care and education.  
So the process begins, to find a place where these students can pursue their passion while also receiving real-world experience in their field of choice, a full high school education, and certifications that can serve as a springboard to either higher education, or directly into a career. 
At thousands of kitchen tables across southern Chester County, the solution has often been the pursuit of another option: Chester County Technical College High School, at its branches in Downingtown, Phoenixville and West Grove.
On March 30 at the Pennock's Bridge campus in West Grove, the school will swing open its doors and give prospective students and their parents the opportunity to learn how to turn interests into potential careers at “Bridging High School to Future,” from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
The forum will invite representatives from TCHS, local colleges and area school districts, as well as leaders in the many industries that TCHS partners with. In addition, current students and instructors will introduce families to the school's 21 different programs through tours and classroom demonstrations. 
“The forum will engage parents in their student's education, and empower the student to know that he or she can take control of the opportunities that lay ahead,” said Paul Siever, vice principal of the Pennock's Bridge campus. “In most cases, when a TCHS student is here, he or she will find that they're a lot further ahead of the game when they leave here, because they can put on their resume they have already been exposed to college level courses, transferable college credits, learning certifications, as well as learning job and career skills, so that they are employable when they graduate.” 
The timing of the TCHS event – and the increasing value of a technical high school education – coincides with another talking point, one that has hit the family kitchen table conversation broadside over the past decade. From the 1984–1985 enrollment year to the 2014–2015 enrollment year, the inflation-adjusted cost of a four-year education, including tuition, fees, and room and board, increased 119.5 percent for private school and 124.7 percent for public school.
Translated, the cost of sending a student to a private college has skyrocketed to an average of  more than $60,000 per year, and the projected cost of an elite four-year college for a student graduating in 2018 could soar as high as $334,000 for a four-year degree. The national average cost of attending a four-year public college is over $28,000 per year.
It's not only about costs, it's about economic uncertainty. Recent numbers from the Economic Policy Institute indicate that unemployment rates of young high school and college graduates remains elevated today, largely due to disproportionate increases in unemployment during periods of labor market weakness, such as the Great Recession of 2008, which has contributed to the longest, most severe period of economic weakness in more than seven decades.
Further, the Institute's findings stated that the share of young graduates who are “idled” by the economy - neither enrolled in further schooling nor employed - remains elevated in the wake of the Great Recession. This indicates that many graduates are unable to pursue a college education or get more work experience.
In light of these statistics, a TCHS education has joined “high school-to-college” and “high school-to-work” as a valuable third option for local families, and it's a conversation that TCHS administrators are beginning earlier every year. Pennock's Bridge principal Dr. Brian Hughes said that the school has been inviting elementary school students for tours, which include demonstrations of the work being done. 
“It gives these youngsters exposure, not only to the school, but to career readiness, and it's in accordance with the state's 339 Plan, that encourages school districts to implement career awareness,” Hughes said. “Not only are we bringing in students to tour and have an experience, our students are also going out to schools to perform demonstrations at schools throughout southern Chester County.”
For more information about the TCHS Pennock's Bridge campus forum, call 484-237-5325, or e-mail [email protected]. TCHS' Pennock's Bridge campus is located at 280 Pennock's Bridge Road, West Grove, Pa. 19390.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail [email protected].