By Debbie Adams
The Roanoke County Board of Supervisors and the Roanoke County School Board are currently at odds about how to proceed with construction of a new Career and Technical Education Center to replace the Burton Center for Arts and Technology built in 1962.
In 2021, at the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors request, the Mangum Economics firm of Glen Allen, Virginia, prepared a report for Roanoke County on the “Burton Center for Arts and Technology (BCAT) Economic Contribution to Roanoke County, Virginia.” BCAT is the county’s Career and Technical Education Center, now housed on an antiquated campus in Salem.
Mangum Economics provides economic analysis at local, state, and national levels working with clients in both the private and public sectors and has expertise in assessing the economic consequences of proposed regulations and government policies, economic impact assessment, workforce issues and economic development.
In the “Executive Summary” section of the report Mangum Economics stated that:
1)The Burton Center’s enrollment and program offerings have grown substantially, but its physical plant has not kept pace, and it is facing significant capacity constraints.
- The Burton Center, then known as the Roanoke County Education Center, began in 1962 with an initial enrollment of 75 students. Initial program offerings included Auto Mechanics, Cosmetology, Drafting, and Electronics.
- Enrollment has since grown to over 900 students and the Burton Center’s program offerings have grown to include programs in Auto Service Technology, Building Trades, Computer Information Technology, Cosmetology, Criminal Justice, Culinary Arts, Early Childhood Education, Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), Game Design, Masonry, Mechatronics, Motorsports, Nursing, and Welding.
- No new major structures have been added to the campus since 1979—that’s 42 years ago.
- Currently, almost all programs offered at the Burton Center have a larger number of applicants than can be accommodated, with the largest unmet demands in Cosmetology, Criminal Justice, and Culinary Arts.
2) The primary way in which the Burton Center supports the economy of Roanoke County and the Roanoke MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area) is by providing career and technical education that creates job-ready individuals who are well prepared to contribute to that economy.
- As opposed to general secondary education classes, career and technical education prepares students specifically for employment, either in particular trades or within a given field.
- Career and technical education has recently been the subject of much greater focus both at the federal and state level. The main reason is that many of the fastest growing occupations in the U.S. are “middle-skill” occupations – jobs that require education and training beyond high school, but below that of a four-year college degree.
- Nearly one-quarter of all new jobs in the Roanoke MSA between 2018 and 2028 will be middle-skill jobs that are highly dependent on career and technical education.
- Career and technical education programs offered by the Burton Center feed occupations that are of particular significance to the Transportation and Warehousing, Construction, Health Care and Social Assistance, Accommodation and Food Service, and Manufacturing sectors in the Roanoke MSA.
- Of those industry sectors, Transportation and Warehousing, Health Care and Social Assistance, and Manufacturing rank among the largest economic drivers in Roanoke County and the Roanoke MSA in terms of employment footprint, the degree to which the region specializes in those sectors, and wages.
(Even giving consideration to the pandemic, BCAT enrolled 932 students in the 2021-22 school year. However, the number of students that BCAT was unable to serve due to capacity restraints is crucial and life changing for individual students.)
According to the Mangum Economics report, in 2021-22 these were the unmet demands for BCAT programs:
Auto Service Technology—41 applied, 24 accepted, 17 not accepted due to capacity constraints
Building Trades—44 applied, 22 accepted, 22 not accepted
Computer Information Technology—30 applied, 22 accepted, 8 not accepted
Computer Networking—11 applied, 9 accepted, 2 not accepted
Cosmetology—89 applied, 16 accepted, 73 not accepted
Criminal Justice—68 applied, 18 accepted, 50 not accepted
Culinary Arts—64 applied, 22 accepted, 42 not accepted
Early Childhood Education—49 applied, 16 accepted, 33 not accepted
Emergency Medical Technician—48 applied, 30 accepted, 18 not accepted
Game Design—33 applied, 19 accepted, 14 not accepted
Introduction to Nursing Careers—56 applied, 27 accepted, 29 not accepted
Masonry—33 applied, 22 accepted, 11 not accepted
Mechatronics—20 applied, 16 accepted, 4 not accepted
Motorsports—20 applied, 5 accepted, 15 not accepted
Welding—31 applied, 17 accepted, 14 not accepted
In total 638 students applied for BCAT programs; 289 were accepted; 349 were denied a spot due to capacity constraints.