That's why LePage's education agenda includes the Act to Enhance Career and Technical Education, which has three major prongs. First, it attacks the mundane but meaningful issue of scheduling — with some CTEs serving more than a dozen sending schools (all with different staff-development days and vacation time), it can be difficult to align students' calendars, which affects their education. LePage calls for CTEs and school districts to develop a common schedule with no more than five dissimilar days per year.

The other two provisions relate to coordination of academic credits, both between the CTE and a student's home high school, as well as between the tech centers and the Maine Community College System. Students who choose to attend a tech center want assurance that their vocational courses will correspond with academic credits — their carpentry class can knock out an algebra requirement; their early childhood education training can stand in for a social studies credit. In addition, CTE centers and community colleges have "articulation agreements" that provide for certain voc-ed credits to be transferred toward associate's degrees and certification programs.

There are opportunities for innovation here: The United Technologies Center (UTC) in Bangor, for example, is launching a pilot program to synchronize credits between Hermon High School, UTC, Eastern Maine Community College, and the University of Maine system. Provided he or she does the work that's required, "the child gets out in five years with an associate's degree [from EMCC], a skill, and a direct link to UMaine if they wish to continue," says Fred Woodman, UTC director.

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Getting women in the mix

While it's true that more American women than men go to college right now, it's also true that women are missing out on whole sectors of jobs that pay good wages. That's why the quasi-state agency Women, Work, and Community (WWC) began organizing conferences about 10 years ago geared toward educating women about non-traditional occupations. These "Totally Trades" conferences, primarily paid for by the state departments of education and transportation, as well as by the Federal Highway Administration, reach more than 500 high-school girls per year, encouraging them to consider careers in bridge building and road work; electricity, plumbing, and heating (which includes the booming realm of alternative energy); and building construction.

"Women don't grow up thinking of themselves as electricians, or plumbers, or truck drivers — so they can't envision being in that career," says Eloise Vitelli, director of program and policy development at WWC. "We had to help women see that these were opportunities. We have to start younger, where girls are starting to formulate their career aspirations."

While they've not been able to formally track the results of the Totally Trades events, which feature working women demonstrating everything from their technical skills to what they wear to work on a given day, anecdotal evidence suggests that such concentrated outreach works.

Fred Woodman, of UTC, says there's "no question" that Totally Trades is at least partially responsible for the shift in his school's demographic — from about 85 percent male and 15 percent female to more of a 65/35 breakdown. (At PATHS, the ratio of boys to girls is about 3:1, at the Westbrook Regional Vocational Center, which serves Gorham, Scarborough, Westbrook, Bonny Eagle, and Windham/Raymond, there are 273 boys and 135 girls.)

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