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Manatee Technical Institute wants to become MT College

BRADENTON — When Georgia schools changed names from technical institutes to technical colleges, their enrollment increased by as much as 20 percent and money poured in, a Manatee school board member said.

And Manatee Technical Institute officials saw an opportunity.

State statute prohibits MTI from calling itself a college — a benefit that could help increase enrollment, allow the school to apply for more federal grants and permit former service men and women to study under the GI Bill, said Doug Wagner, director of Adult Career and Technical Education at the Manatee school district.

To implement the change, legislation would be needed. That’s because Florida is just one of a few states where schools that teach technical trades like welding and cosmetology are not classified as technical colleges. Under state law, colleges must be accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which requires they be run by a separate board.

MTI has a board of directors; however, the Manatee County School Board makes the policies and oversees its budget just like the rest of the district’s schools.

The school board is looking at how it can help MTI.

“We should explore and see what steps are necessary,” said school board member Walter Miller after recently telling board members that technical schools in Georgia that changed their names increased enrollment by 15-20 percent.

Board Member Harry Kinnan agreed and said the move has merit. MTI officials are pushing.

“GI Bill funding alone is a big deal. We’d like to have ex-military personnel enroll in MTI. And the grants are a definite reason to be competitive,” Wagner said.

Which they already are.

“We are the six-time, number-one National Skills USA winners, a career and technical student organization that competes against colleges across the nation,” Wagner said.

Miller said the board requested the change to legislators years ago.

“But it did not pass at the time,” Miller said. “There are a lot of young people who need to get a skill, to be educated, trained and certified, and by changing the name we feel it would enhance the image ... be more of an attraction to young people to come to the school.”

Miller said the board asked Wagner to research and report back.

If board members want to move forward, they’ll have to ask the Florida School Board Association to ask for it in the upcoming legislation session.

“No one is saying we want to wave the magic wand and change the name,” Wagner said. “We are saying the Florida legislators should give us the opportunity to apply the same standards that they do to other post-secondary institutions. If we can rise up to those standards, we should be able to change our name.”