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More local graduates entering workforce straight from high school

When it comes to a future after high school, graduates have a variety of options including attending a four-year university, a two-year university, going straight into the workforce, joining the military or pursuing a trade.

Area high school staff have noticed an uptick in students going straight into the workforce, a trade or vocational school or attending a two-year institution and a slim decline of those pursuing a four-year college or university degree.

According to a survey conducted by Intelligent.com, nationally, “48% of non-enrolled young adults joined the workforce instead of going to college,” with 34% of 18-24 year-olds who aren’t enrolled in an institution saying they cannot afford it. Around 29% of young adults “say it’s a waste of money.”

Michelle Catucci, chair of the counseling department at Cheshire High School, said there have been fewer Cheshire graduates going straight into a four-year college than in past years.

Last year, 81% of graduates went directly into a four-year university, while the graduating class before them saw 79% go into a four-year university. In the past, however, the percentage was in the upper 80s.

“Usually it’s because students are either going directly to work, they’re taking a gap year and then working while they’re in their gap year, things like that, rather than going directly to the four year college,” Catucci said.

Catucci said COVID is still a factor for students considering a four-year university.

“The normal four-year college ‘experience’ is not the same experience that it would’ve been pre-COVID,” Catucci said.

Finances are also a reason, Catucci added.

“With family financial situations changing and students kind of thinking about the return on their investment, some are saying I either need to work to earn more money so I can afford to go to college or there might be a different path that can get me to employment more quickly than a traditional four-year college,” Catucci said.

Another reason is students don’t know what field they want to study.

“That’s when families are saying maybe we shouldn’t make this investment for you to go to a four-year school if you’re not 100% sure what you want to do as a career,” Catucci said.


Barbara Haeffner, assistant superintendent for teaching and innovation for Meriden Public Schools, said students can utilize personal learning experiences to find out what they may be interested in after high school. In personal learning experiences, students design a credit earning course with their advisor.

“They can explore different areas,” Haeffner said. “We do provide time for a structured exploration in a learning environment where students can see if they are interested in a career field. Sometimes they explore a learning environment and they say, ‘I’m not interested.’”

Peter Civitello, Meriden supervisor of data integration and post secondary planning, said at the end of junior year, students have a meeting with their counselor to plan senior year and determine a career path.

Every year, Civitello said the district sees about 25% to 30% of graduating seniors lean toward joining the workforce or starting vocational training.

“It’s been a pretty consistent number ... we do have some students that are coming right out of graduation now that are looking more at some of the trades or technical opportunities,” Civitello said.

At both Platt High School and Maloney High School in Meriden, there are career and technical education courses that highlight fields including manufacturing, medical and technology.

Cynthia Simone, a nursing teacher in the career and technical education department at Maloney High School, teaches the certified nursing assistant program.

Students “can take this course in their junior or senior year,” Simone said. “It’s a full-year course and at the end of the year, they can test for certification with the state of Connecticut. The night they pass both components of that test, written and hands-on skills, they’re put on the Connecticut registry for CNA and they can go out that evening and get a job.”

Simone said some students continue as a CNA after high school instead of pursuing a college degree. Others utilize their experience and the money they earn to help them attain a college degree.

“I don’t see 100% going into the workforce as CNAs, but I see a high percentage, especially with the increase in salary and especially now that the COVID numbers are starting to relax a little bit,” Simone said. “I’m seeing the students move forward out into the workforce.”

Aziz Nazari, 16, a senior at Maloney High School, passed his CNA certification and works at the Village at Kensington Place when he is not in school. Nazari will apply to attend an accelerated physician assistant program after graduation.

“I chose to do that not only to get a head start in my career, I want to be a PA,” Nazari said. “A CNA job is more of working with your community than an actual job and so I really felt obligated ... to assist my community anyway I could.”


Kimberly McLaughlin, college and career counselor at Sheehan High School, said she helps students understand all options after high school. A point School Superintendent Danielle Bellizzi echoed at a recent Board of Education meeting.

“We have a career counselor at each of our high schools that does spend a lot of time talking with our students and helping them determine what their interests are and what the things are that they want to pursue after high school,” Bellizzi said at the meeting. “I do think it is a nice mix, whether it is going to college or in this case, providing opportunities for them to have the skills to go out into the workforce if that is something they choose to do.”

Kaitlyn Kopylec, college and career counselor at Lyman Hall High School, said college and career counselors create relationships with military recruiters, college admissions staff and employers to help students learn more about different paths after high school.

“I feel our College and Career Center counselors have done a great job establishing relationships,” Kopylec said.

The percentage of Lyman Hall and Sheehan graduates who pursued a four-year degree after high school was 62% in 2022. This is an increase from 58.8% in 2021. But the percentage of Lyman Hall and Sheehan graduates who pursued employment right after high school has more than tripled from 4% in 2019 to 14.8% in 2021 and 14.5% in 2022.

“More students are choosing to attend technical colleges or enter into apprenticeships in fields that have many positions with high rates of pay and long-term benefit,” according to the district’s annual report.

The percentage of students pursuing technical schools, trades, military and apprenticeships stayed at 5.9% in both 2021 and 2022, which is an increase from 4.8% in 2020.


Jennifer Discenza, Southington director of school counseling for grades six through 12, said that the number of students pursuing trade and vocational schools has increased over the years from 3% for the 2018-19 Southington High School graduating class to 5% for the 2021-22 class. The 2022-23 class is projected to have 6% go to a trade/vocational school.

“They’re a very viable field where people can make good money,” Discenza said. “I think we are strengthening our connections with community businesses.”

From middle school on, Discenza said Southington students get to pursue various electives that can help spark interest in a future career.

“Especially with our increased graduation requirements that the state implemented a couple of years ago, kids are now being able to explore some of those elective areas that they may not have prior,” Discenza said.

The percentage of students pursuing a two-year degree is projected to increase slightly from 16% for the 2022 graduating class to 17% for the 2023 graduating class.

Through the Pledge to Advanct CT (PACT), the federal government is providing students free education if they go straight to a community college.

“We’ve seen a lot of students choosing to go to community college versus the four year because they go there first and then they’ll transfer into a four year university or college afterwards,” Discenza said.

Catucci said Cheshire High School has also seen this trend.

“I think that we’ve been good about talking to students more about that they need to be on their individual path rather than the expected path,” Catucci said.

jsimms@record-journal.com203-317-2279Twitter: @jessica_simms99


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