HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Schools like the Academy for Technology and Academics (ATA) in Conway are receiving a lot more students. Many say the potential time and money students save by attending an academy is fueling their growth.
ATA senior Alexandra Reilly says her passion has always been in the kitchen.
"I thought it would be best to start in a career and advance, and coming here has certainly done that," said Reiley.
ATA, like most career academies, centers on a career-focused education. Students have 11 different variety of majors to choose from including business, engineering, nursing and culinary arts.
"We work in a lab all day long, we do banquets for the school, work with chefs in the area," added Reiley.
ATA's principal David Stoudenmire says first-hand experience gives career academy graduates an edge.
"More and more parents and students are seeing the advantages," said Stoudenmire.
Education experts say the growing cost of college is making career academies more attractive. A recent government survey shows a the annual tuition for a public college grew more than 40 percent over the last decade.
"It's a really important thing to find out 'that's not what I want', and learn it now while you're in high school before you actually start that really expensive college education," added Stoudenmire.
The majority of ATA students choose higher education. Stoudenmire says the ATA curriculum helps students make more informed decisions about college and the school has about a 98 percent placement rate. This means students choose a military route, higher education route, or immediate workforce route in a field related to his-or-her chosen major in ATA.
"It has really shown me what it's like and hooked me onto it more," said Reiley. She plans to attend Johnson and Whales or Rutgers in the future. She hopes to combine her interest in hospitality and business some day.
Over the last 7 years ATA applicants and enrollment have grown and the school is looking to add a 12th major to its roster of programs. Stoudenmire says next fall will be the school's largest incoming junior class and enrollment at the school will have nearly double since it first opened in 2006.
The application phase for the 2013-2014 school year is over. ATA begins accepting new applications in the winter, when the school hosts several open houses and information presentations.