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VTE grad program ranked third in nation

By Sandy Broughton

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 09 - October 19, 1995

The Vocational and Technical Education program in the College of Education is ranked third in the nation in U.S. News and World Report's 1995 book of America's Best Graduate Schools.

The book, published this fall, ranks the nation's graduate programs based on student selectivity, faculty resources, research, and reputation. In the category of education specialties, Virginia Tech ranked third in the nation in vocational and technical programs, in a survey of education deans and senior faculty members. Ohio State won the top spot. The University of Minnesota was ranked number two.

"To me, this doesn't come as a surprise," said Curtis Finch, a VTE faculty member since 1974 and Virginia Tech site director for the National Center for Research in Vocational Education (NCRVE) since 1988. "Our faculty is actively involved in national organizations, our graduates are in leadership positions in public education, and our external connections have given us the opportunity to do cutting-edge research."

Prestigious rankings are not new to Tech's Vocational and Technical Education program. A 1991 study from the University of Illinois ranked Tech's program second in the nation in productivity and third in the nation in prestige. In a 1993 Utah State study, Virginia Tech was rated by leaders in the field as the top graduate program in technology education in the United States.

Jim Gregson, a 1990 graduate of the VTE program, now assistant professor at Oklahoma State University, says it was the program's reputation that first interested him in studying at Tech. "While I was doing my master's-thesis research I kept seeing the names of professors at Tech, so I knew they were prominent contributors to the body of knowledge in vocational and technical education. Virginia Tech was highly recommended by others in the field."

Reputation similarly played a part in VTE doctoral student Lillian Daughtry's decision to come to Virginia Tech. "I was looking for a university on the east coast with national recognition and a comprehensive program in vocational education. I contacted my alma mater, NCSU, and Virginia Tech was highly recommended," Daughtry said. "After I did further investigation on my own, I realized Tech had an experienced, mature faculty that would provide much insight and mentoring as I strived to grow and be challenged. After visiting and interviewing with other universities, I believed that Tech would provide me with exposure to a national perspective on vocational education. The publication record of faculty members in the department was impressive."

Tech's VTE program has a brief, but distinguished, history. Karl Hereford, founding dean of the College of Education, organized the college into four divisions, one of them focused exclusively on vocational technical education. Rufus W. Beamer, a former executive director of the Virginia State Advisory Council on Vocational Education, was appointed associate dean in 1971 and further strengthened the VTE program. The graduate program awarded its first doctorate in 1973, making it a very young program compared to the others in the U.S. News ranking.

About 100 students are currently enrolled in VTE master's and doctoral courses. Fifty master's degrees and 11 doctorates were awarded last year.

Nevin Frantz, who served as Vocational and Technical Education Division director for 14 years, says Tech is one of only about 25 institutions nation-wide that takes a comprehensive approach to the subject. "We have faculty expertise in all areas of vocational and technical education, and that enables us to work in synergistic, cooperative ways. We are able to serve a wide range of students."

The program's reputation has extended into the international arena, with graduate students from Finland, Greece, Taiwan, Malaysia, Belize, China, South Africa, Nigeria, and other countries.

The Virginia Tech VTE faculty is extremely visible in national positions of leadership. Daisy Stewart, president elect of the 40,000-member American Vocational Association (AVA), was recently quoted in a Los Angeles Times news story about job-training programs. From keynote addresses to two-week workshops, in the past three years, James Hoerner has made more than 100 presentations in more than 40 states on education reform, Tech Prep, and school-to-work transition. Those are just two examples. The other 16 VTE faculty members are equally as productive.

Gregson says professionalism and dedication to scholarship permeate the culture of the VTE program, and that graduate students as well as faculty members are encouraged to participate in professional activities and organizations. Gregson now holds offices in the National Association of Industrial and Technical Teacher Educators and the American Vocational Education Research Association, two organizations he was exposed to while a student at Tech.

Faculty procurement of external resources has not only given the VTE program extra financial support, but also provided meaningful experience and professional development for students. The NCRVE, for example, is a nationwide consortium of seven universities and research groups-including Tech's College of Education-which studies the relationship between education and work. The NCRVE has received $60 million in federal grants to further vocational education research, development, dissemination, and training. Virginia Tech has produced and hosted 12 national, interactive satellite teleconferences for the NCRVE. Last year, educators, policy makers, and administrators at more than 1,100 downlink sites viewed videotaped segments of exemplary programs and participated in live discussions with expert panelists.

This fall, the Virginia Tech Colleges of Engineering and Business were ranked in the top 50 undergraduate programs in the nation in the U.S. News and World Report annual college guide issue.