A brighter image and appeal to college-bound students are behind a boom in enrollment at Carroll County Career and Technology Center, school officials say.
"This is the most growth I can remember ever," said Peter B. McDowell, director of secondary education for the county.
The center will have 103 more students next year, a 20 percent increase from 495 last year to 598 expected next fall. That compares with a 3.4 percent growth in total high school enrollment in the county.
"We're getting a broader population," Mr. McDowell said. Of the 103 additional students enrolled next year, 56 are students from high schools who will be taking a new college-preparatory course called "Pre-engineering Survey."
It will be the second time an academic college-prep course is taught at the school. This past year, Westminster High School science teacher James Gilford used the plumbing shop at the school for his two sections of science research, a course that draws juniors and seniors interested in careers in science.
The large space and setup of the plumbing shop helped the class raise brown trout, and students from technical center programs worked with science students to build a cooling system to keep the water cold enough for the trout.
Academic courses at the center provide an opportunity for students who otherwise might have discounted the school, Mr. McDowell said.
"The kids at Westminster go back and say, 'They're really doing things over there, not just getting their hands dirty,' " Mr. McDowell said. "At the technical center open house, there were as many science research course parents as other parents."
Students in the welding program learn physics; the machine shop instructor teaches trigonometry. In both cases, the subjects are applied to work students do.
The center began a two-year program last year called "health careers," for students interested in careers other than nursing, such as physical therapy, phlebotomy and other medical technology fields. Enrollment in that program increased from 11 last year to 28 registered for next year.
Most of the students at the technical center attend as juniors for one of several two-year programs that teach students marketable skills, such as machining, cosmetology, carpentry and auto mechanics. The center also has a program for licensed practical nursing that accepts high school students, and fills remaining spaces with adults who take it as a post-secondary program. The nursing program always has a waiting list of adults, said center counselor Sharon Chilcoat.
Ms. Chilcoat said another reason for the increase has been the aggressive marketing school officials have allowed her do this year. Instead of staying at the technical center full time, she spent a half-day a week at each of the five high schools, to answer questions and guide students interested in the center.
Other promotion efforts include a weeklong summer program for seventh- through ninth-graders to acquaint them with the programs.
New graduation requirements also make the center appealing, Ms. Chilcoat said. All students have to earn a credit in technical education, although high schools have several courses that could fill that requirement.
The state now requires students to be prepared for college or a job by the time they graduate, and the technical center's two-year programs all meet the job standard. Many also prepare students for continuing in college.
"I think there's a certain mentality in our society that success is synonymous with a dress or a shirt and tie," Mr. McDowell said.
But students and parents are seeing the high success the career center has with graduates.
This year, 98 percent of the 220 graduates either were going to a job, a college or the military.