As a new school year approaches, the usual anticipation and anxiety about getting adjusted into new classes, meeting new teachers and making friends is perhaps foremost on the minds of students.

But there is more to consider going forward.

Recent conversations among local leaders have touched on establishing a new career technology academy for high school students that will better prepare them for the evolving workforce.

Not only would enhanced facilities and offerings be beneficial at the high school level, students could move more easily into Wallace State Community College with its array of programs that provide excellent preparation for well-paying employment.

The demand is here and across the state. Alabama, according to the prestigious Business Facilities magazine, ranks second in the nation for workforce training. Becoming number one is within reach, not for the sake of the rating, but for the long-term benefits of economic growth and sustainability.

Cullman County is by far among the top areas in Alabama with workforce development because of industrial and local government partnerships with Wallace State. This can become even stronger with an area-wide commitment for an improved career technical academy serving students throughout the county, including the city of Cullman.

The financial ability should be in place to make this project happen. And while that plan should move forward immediately, there is also an opportunity in this process to incorporate the STEAM concept (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) to provide students with even greater advantages and increase critical thinking skills, which are valuable whether a student pursues a four-year degree or enrolls in a technical skills program.

According to a recent report by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, 32 percent of Alabama high school graduates enrolled in two-year colleges, while 31 percent enrolled at a four-year college. That leaves 37 percent who don’t continue into any form of higher education.

On the local level, knowing those statistics, an advanced career technical academy deserves commitment and investment to ensure a more progressive, successful future for Cullman County students.

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