Trades, community colleges see rising interest during pandemic

PITTSBURGH — Many college students are back classes but they’re mostly online. But WPXI is learning many people are looking at different options during this time.

“It’s been exciting to get back into normalish,” said Rosedale Technical student, Daniel Dennehy-Rodriguez.

While these Rosedale Technical College students learn the mechanics of cars and trucks, they’re doing it differently than just a few months ago. Now with masks and social distancing, that’s not the only difference; more students are signing up.

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Rosedale Technical College President, Dennis Wilke, said they are seeing more students. “On August 3 just a few weeks ago was about almost 20% higher than last year. We are starting to see some pretty significant increases. We’ve noticed that the jobs that we train for are needed more than ever before.”

Wilke says the trades have seen a slight increase over the recent years but more so when the economy is rocky.

“The lesser skilled folks are the ones getting laid off,” said Wilke. “They’re recognizing they need to upskill in order to remain employed and to protect themselves the next time.”

For Candace Carlton of Monaca, who recently enrolled at Rosedale Technical, it’s a career change. During quarantine in March she was a massage therapist but couldn’t practice.

“Realized that was a little bit difficult during a pandemic when you can’t actually physically interact with anyone,” said Carlton.

Now Carlton’s on the path to be a diesel mechanic. “It was a leap of faith and I’m glad I took that leap because I’m having a great time so far.”

But technical schools aren’t the only places seeing an increase in enrollment so are community colleges. While students are back at class, many of them are taking those classes virtually. Some of those students decided to look closer to home to save some money.

Gearoid Ridenour of Gibsonia decided to enroll as a visiting student at the Community College of Allegheny College this fall semester.

“I just realized that it’s going to be kind of pointless to pay the same amount of tuition for what’s essentially like an online education,” said Ridenour.

His major is undecided so Ridenour decided to take the rest of his general education classes at CCAC. He’s still enrolled at Penn State and even living in an apartment at State College. His CCAC credits taken will transfer to Penn State.

Ridenour is not alone in that decision. CCAC Enrollment Managment VP Brian Sajko said their enrollment numbers are higher across the board. “We’ve seen major signs of uptick here of late decision makers, for example our financial aid applications have been up in double digits over the last three weeks.”

Sajko added it’s seeing more students enroll in online instruction since it offers more flexibility.

The enrollment of high school graduates went from 15% last fall to 17% this fall. As for visiting students from other colleges, those numbers have also increased by more than a percent, to 5.9%. Students like Ridenour said they can’t beat the savings benefit.

“My family was probably paying close to $18,000 a semester with tuition, you know, activity fees, all that kind of stuff,” said Ridenour. “A bunch of random fees, I don’t really know what they would even go into. But this semester at CCAC is under 4,000 so it’s definitely like pretty significant.”

Both schools WPXI spoke with say they expect their numbers will increase year-round, as more people find out if they will head back to work after being furloughed, or if they’ll be laid off permanently.

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