BannerBy Theresa Desaulniers (July 2019)                             PDF of this document

Career Technical Education (CTE) should be an option that every high school should offer its students. CTE programs have shown positive impacts on student achievement and an increase in graduation rates (Bottoms, 2008; Dortch, 2014; Kantrov, 2015). As societal demands increase in jobs that often don’t require a college degree, CTE programs are becoming more important than ever. Already certain high schools include CTE classes and programs and the trend should continue into all secondary schools. Middle schools are using subjects such as cooking, woodshop and computer programming to introduce students to the possibility of a CTE pathway. High schools should be certain to provide these pathways to students in high school to continue to fill employment opportunity and future needs of society.

CTE is working in every state to help meet the country’s very real and immediate challenges of economic development, student achievement and global competitiveness. In total, some 12.5 million students are enrolled in CTE programs across the country. Their mission is to prepare students of all ages for success in college and career by helping them develop the skills, technical knowledge, academic rigor and real-world experience for high-skill, high-demand, highly successful careers (CTE in Your State). Young people who struggle to find meaning in traditional academic classrooms often thrive when they are asked to tackle authentic projects and solve problems—the hallmarks of the best CTE courses (Bottoms, 2008).  A key strategy for improving these trends is joining academic and technical studies together to create a program of study that helps students see a connection between education and careers and prepares them for success in further education and the workplace.

CTE is being offered in public and private high schools and is being introduced in middle schools. Although courses such as woodshop and culinary arts have traditionally been included in both public and private schools beginning in middle school, the rebranding of these classes now includes them in CTE. Some districts, such as Salem Keizer school district in Oregon, provide courses that fall into the CTE category as an elective instead of a dedicated pathway. These are the schools that need convincing to widen their student opportunities. There are some dedicated CTE high schools to which students must apply for admittance. Salem Keizer school district has one such school that focuses on computer occupations, robotics and culinary arts. The Medford school district, also in Oregon, has a collective of programs incorporated into one high school, Crater High School. According to the Crater High School website, this program focuses a student into one of three potential CTE pathways or a collegiate track.

Crater is home to three unique academies: Crater Academy of Health and Public Services, Crater School of Business Innovation Science, and the Crater Renaissance Academy. Each academy is distinctive in its overall educational philosophy, in the organization of curriculum and classes, and in the conceptual framework for which it is centered; for example, CAHPS’ core is powered by civic engagement, BIS’ cornerstone rests on real world applications and technology, and CRA’s nucleus revolves around a positive school culture and educating well-rounded students. (Crater High School, 2019)

At the secondary level, when CTE is offered in high schools, area CTE centers, community colleges, and detention centers, students have more opportunities after high school.  Nearly all 2009 public high school graduates (88%) earned at least one CTE credit, and 19% earned at least three CTE credits in a single occupational area (Levesque, et al.; Career and Technical Education in the United States). Often, these students are taking CTE classes as an elective and are unaware that these classes fit into a CTE program. Many students choose to take Auto-shop, Culinary skills, or childcare because it sounds interesting, is perceived as a respite from the regular style of high school course or sparks an interest in the student as a potential future career. CTE at the secondary level prepares students for roles outside the paid labor market, teaches general employment skills such as word processing and introductory technology skills, and teaches the skills required in specific occupations or occupational clusters. (Levesque, et al.; Career and Technical Education in the United States) Career clusters provide a useful guide in developing programs of study creating individual student pathways for a wider range of career opportunities. There are 16 career clusters that act as an organizational framework for 79 additional career pathways (, 2019) providing the option to obtain very specific training in specialized fields.

The statistics indicate that CTE is offered by the overwhelming majority (83%) of public high schools but offered by fewer (29%) private high schools (2008 public school data from U.S. Department of Education). Some of the CTE courses offered by public and private schools are located offsite at area CTE schools, postsecondary education institutions, and other locations. Students are often transported to these schools from their high school or between schools that support these programs. The most common CTE courses offered in public high schools offering CTE were in business (97%) and computer technology (95%) (Levesque, et al., Career and Technical Education in the United States).  If a high school cannot provide these courses but a CTE establishment is within transportation range, high schools can partner with these CTE schools to provide the necessary educational opportunities for the students. Curran et al. (2013) discovered that the greater the percentage of CTE in a student’s total course load, the lower the probability that the student would drop out. This is especially true for at risk and under-represented youth.

CTE schools have higher on-time graduation rates. There are two types of estimates used to report on the findings of studies involving the success of CTE programs. The first is called an Intent-to-Treat estimate (ITT), which compares outcomes for students who were accepted to CTE schools to outcomes for students who were not accepted. The second is known as a Dosage estimate, which compares students who attended a CTE school to students who did not attend. Levesque, et al. informs through their report, Career and Technical Education in the United States, that this CTE advantage continues to reflect graduation rates for the schools for which these data were available (13-27% increase in individual’s odds of graduating using ITT estimate and 111-183% increase using Dosage estimate). There were CTE impacts on total credits earned (0.7 – .0.8 credits with ITT estimate, and 5.9 – 6.6 credits with Dosage estimate) and total CTE courses taken (0.33-0.38 with ITT estimate, and 2.30-2.34 with Dosage estimate).  CTE schools have a substantial impact on the probability of successfully completing the college preparatory mathematics sequence of Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and Geometry. Schools that are specifically designed as CTE schools have a graduation rate that outperforms the traditional college preparatory curriculum schools. There is a 25-32% increase in the odds of completing pre-college courses in schools which contain a CTE program.  CTE specific schools have had between two and three times as great completion rates as for those who attended other schools (232-255% increase in odds of completing mathematics course sequence). Dual language students can find a significant benefit by attending a CTE school and pursue a pathway that has a high demand for bilingual employees. A substantial CTE impact (145-148% increase in odds of completing foreign language course sequence) exists with those who attend CTE schools having over twice the odds of successfully completing two years of a foreign language (Curan, 2013; Levesque, et al, 2008).

As societal demands increase in jobs that often don’t require a college degree, CTE programs are becoming more important than ever. College degrees are not necessary to find satisfying work in many areas. The production, processing, marketing, distribution, financing, and development of agricultural commodities and resources including food, fiber, wood products, natural resources, horticulture, and other plant and animal products and resources are educational pathways CTE can address (Dortch, 2014). There are many more careers available without the need of a college degree than even a CTE specific school can address. Sixteen distinct pathways currently exist for CTE students to prepare them for the necessary skills needed for the workplace. This underscores the need for many CTE programs and many CTE schools.

Programs of study can be intertwined and related to each other in CTE programs. For example, agriculture, food and natural resources programs, as listed above, can be taught with food products and processing, plant and animal, structural and technical, natural resources, environmental services, and agribusiness systems (Dortch, 2014). CTE schools can be relevant to the communities which they serve by addressing the employment needs of those, and surrounding, communities. Flexibility can reside in the programs to adjust to the changing needs of each region. CTE schools are responsive to the needs of the community and adjust their course offerings as the community grows and changes.  These schools welcome the community involvement to help shape their course offerings and often partner with local businesses to help place interns in those businesses after the student completes the program.

Audio and video technology, film printing technology and the arts (visual arts, and performing arts) include disciplines that are universal in need.  Journalism and broadcasting, telecommunications, and communications design are forecasted to be in high demand. According to Leslie Doyle and McKinley Marketing Partners, digital marketing professionals were the most hired roles among all marketing professionals in 2018, and 59 percent of marketing leaders planned to hire for these roles in 2019. Many schools already have CTE programs in place that support these potential careers. These programs can also lead to a college track for a more formal degree or certification.

Business management and careers in planning, organizing, directing, and evaluating the functions of businesses are essential to efficient and productive business operations. West Salem High School has a program that puts students in a banking environment where they become immersed in the practical application of all the above. MAPS Credit Union partner with that high school to provide training in a real banking environment. Not only do students benefit, but nonstudents are able to access the bank and conduct normal, daily business (mapsCredit Union, 2019). This partnership is beneficial to the students as it prepares them for future banking and other business opportunities not requiring a college degree.

When only 3-4% of high schools in the US are CTE schools (NCES, 2008) but they have graduation rates 10% higher than the national average (Applied Educational Systems, 2019), the benefit of such programs cannot be overstated.  Keeping students in school and engaged in learning is vital to the success of students toward graduating. These schools supply students with skills that are in demand in the workplace and may provide occupations for students immediately after completing their programs. Students who gain the skills from CTE schools are not deprived of the necessary credits that would keep them from going to college. Having the discipline needed to complete a CTE program will also provide a student with the necessary discipline to be successful in college. CTE specific high schools can, and should, be available for students to select instead of the standard college track high school if these students wished to pursue any of these 16 career tracks. High schools that are not specifically designated at CTE schools should, at least, possess the programs available for students to explore. The skills taught at CTE schools are valuable for both college pathways as well as those on a direct path into the working force. Students who pursue CTE pathways do so out of interest and this interest leads to higher graduation rates. The graduates are given the basics to succeed in these fields immediately after high school and put them on a course that will make them more successful in society.

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