Allegheny County

‘College is not for everybody’: Local high school counselor says students have options

ALLISON PARK, Pa. — “I feel like the message to students needs to be that college is not for everybody.”

It’s a bold message that high school career counselor Nicole Levis is advocating.

“My dad didn’t go to college,” said Andrew Bennett, a sophomore at Avonworth High School. “He’s a dispatcher and he was 100% supportive of me going here (to A.W. Beattie Career Center) and not going to college or going to a two-year college.”

Andrew spends part of his time at Avonworth and the other part at A.W. Beattie Career Center. He’s learning how to be an auto technician while in high school.

“In that stack of resumes, that student is going to be at a competitive advantage; they have the certifications, they have the hands-on experience,” said Dr. Jason Watkins, assistant director and principal at A.W. Beattie Career Center.

Levis, Andrew, and Watkins understand how career centers can help set up a student for success after graduation.

“The struggle that I have is trying to convince the parents that it’s a good thing,” said Levis.

Channel 11′s Jennifer Tomazic asked Levis if she thinks there is a bias among parents, and she said there was.

“There’s a stigma out there that everyone wants their child to go to a four-year college, and what we’re seeing is 30% of those come out and can’t find employment,” said Joseph Thurby, chairman of Greater Pittsburgh Auto Dealers and The Neighborhood Ford Store.

But Thurby knows where they can find employment: in the auto tech industry. The industry is in serious need of employees. That’s why he recently wrote a letter to the editor, giving parents reasons why they should embrace their children learning a trade.

“We try to influence the attitude to try to get folks to have a different attitude about career technical schools, to know that it’s not an end to an education, it’s simply the beginning,” said Watkins.

Students at his career center are taking note. Enrollment has grown every year for the last six years that Watkins has been the principal at A.W. Beattie Career Center. It offers 20 programs to students in nine North Hills school districts. Auto tech is one that fills up the fastest, so Andrew was quick to sign up and realize, even at a young age, what this can do for his future.

“There is a shortage of mechanics around, and that just helps getting a job. There’s really openings in all shops,” said Andrew.

“They’re helping feed those pipelines for those particular careers,” said Watkins.

They are also helping the local economy by retaining good, local talent.

“We should be thinking about where the jobs are before we plan the educational process,” said Levis. “So let’s plan ahead so we know where our successes are going to be.”

Levis says triple the number of students from Avonworth than expected want to go to A.W. Beattie next year. Levis hoped for 10 students, and 35 are now on the list.