In what it said was a record-setting year, the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools reports that 216 seniors at 11 such schools across the Garden State not only have a high school diploma to celebrate this month, but also an associate degree.

Council executive director Jackie Burke said the number of vo-tech students in the state who have received such degrees has jumped by about 25% since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic more than two years ago.

The ever-growing partnership between the state's vocational-technical schools and its county colleges, spurred by both increased college credit opportunities and a crucial 2018 state grant, has further diversified the many fruitful paths a young adult can take as they near the end of their education and join the workforce.

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In some cases, multiple paths are available just steps away from each other: The Paramus campus of Bergen Community College is also home to Applied Technology High School, for instance.

"Our schools recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all. The majority of our students do go into college, but there are opportunities to take the learning and go directly into the field," Burke said, adding that apprenticeships and two- and four-year colleges are still all solid options. "They really are unique in getting students prepared for a career, and allow them a lot of opportunities that you don't see in other schools."

Money remains the bottom line, and Burke said cost savings play a significant role in the usefulness of vocational-technical schools.

"Parents of students always appreciate the value of a head start on college, especially now with the price of everything going up, including college tuition," she said.

And, Burke said, employers will sometimes pay for a student's education as a condition of hiring, fostering an attitude of "lifetime learning."

"That's a win-win for the employer and for the student, because employers will cover the cost in a lot of circumstances for their employees to continue their education," she said.

Among the 216 vocational-technical seniors who are walking away with additional associate degrees this year:

  • 54 are from Cumberland County Technical Education Center;
  • 44 from Ocean County Vocational Technical School;
  • 29 from Bergen County Technical School District;
  • 25 from Somerset County Vocational and Technical Schools;
  • 23 from Essex County Schools of Technology;
  • 14 from Hudson County Schools of Technology;
  • 10 from Gloucester County Institute of Technology;
  • 9 from Salem County Vocational Technical School District;
  • 5 from Atlantic County Institute of Technology;
  • 2 from Morris County Vocational School District;
  • 1 from Mercer County Technical Schools.

For more, visit careertechnj.org.

Patrick Lavery is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com

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These are the best hiking spots in New Jersey

A trip to New Jersey doesn't have to be all about the beach. Our state has some incredible trails, waterfalls, and lakes to enjoy.

From the Pine Barrens to the Appalachian Trail to the hidden gems of New Jersey, you have plenty of options for a great hike. Hiking is such a great way to spend time outdoors and enjoy nature, plus it's a great workout.

Before you go out on the trails and explore some of our listeners' suggestions, I have some tips on hiking etiquette from the American Hiking Society.

If you are going downhill and run into an uphill hiker, step to the side and give the uphill hiker space. A hiker going uphill has the right of way unless they stop to catch their breath.

Always stay on the trail, you may see side paths, unless they are marked as an official trail, steer clear of them. By going off-trail you may cause damage to the ecosystems around the trail, the plants, and wildlife that live there.

You also do not want to disturb the wildlife you encounter, just keep your distance from the wildlife and continue hiking.

Bicyclists should yield to hikers and horses. Hikers should also yield to horses, but I’m not sure how many horses you will encounter on the trails in New Jersey.
If you are thinking of bringing your dog on your hike, they should be leashed, and make sure to clean up all pet waste.

Lastly, be mindful of the weather, if the trail is too muddy, it's probably best to save your hike for another day.

I asked our listeners for their suggestions of the best hiking spots in New Jersey, check out their suggestions:

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