It's hard to argue with the success of Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, which teach transferable workplace skills and academic content in a hands-on context. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently characterized CTE programs as providing "instruction that is hands-on and engaging, as well as rigorous and relevant." He went on to say that CTE programs "are helping to connect students with the high-demand science, technology, engineering and math fields -- where so many good jobs are waiting." Furthermore, in recognizing CTE month on the House floor, Rep. James Langevin recently stated, "CTE is an investment in the future of our economy, our workforce and our country."
Despite these benefits of CTE, only about one in four students (28.6%) earned five or more CTE credits, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Most students have some interaction with CTE during their high school experience, but few are immersing themselves in CTE programs.
One reason why more students are not pursuing CTE programs is that critics characterize it as a track for students who are less likely to attend college. This line of thinking is detrimental to students, employers and the future of our country. Students should no longer need to decide between college readiness and career preparation -- it's possible and increasingly necessary to achieve both.
A recent Gallup-Lumina Poll found that when hiring, U.S. business leaders say candidates' knowledge and applied skills in a specific field are more important factors than where the candidate went to school or what their major was. To be successful in the workplace, college-bound students still need specific knowledge and skills, which they can get from CTE programs.
Additionally, the Gallup-Purdue Index finds that college graduates who had an internship or job in college where they were able to apply what they were learning in the classroom, who were actively involved in extracurricular activities and organizations, and who worked on projects that took a semester or more to complete, doubled their odds of being engaged at work. Yet, just 6% of college graduates say they had all three of these experiences. These are exactly the types of experiences that CTE programs offer to students.
Critics may argue that enrolling in a CTE program may divert college-bound students' attention away from college preparation classes. However, a recent study found that 80% of students taking a college preparatory academic curriculum with rigorous CTE met the standard for college and career readiness, compared with 63% of students taking the same academic core without rigorous CTE. Further, while national graduation rates have inched up in recent years, students with a concentration in CTE are nearly 15 percentage points more likely to graduate high school than the national average. These data suggest that whether students take one CTE course or enroll in an entire CTE program, CTE should be a part of every student's education.
As a student, I was actively involved in a variety of CTE programs. While the experience I gained through livestock judging may not seem like it directly prepared me for my role at Gallup, I often rely upon skills such as:
- working long hours toward a goal
- building relationships with instructors both in and out of the classroom
- keeping accurate records and managing budgets
- fundraising to cover the cost of materials, registration fees and travel
- representing the school or even the state at contests
- the joy of winning and the agony of defeat
- being part of a team
- serving as a mentor and being mentored by others
Regardless of the actual content being taught, these experiences build the transferable skills that lead to success in college and career, while painting a realistic picture of the future students will face in the working world. CTE should not just play a prominent role for a few students; it should be the new normal in education.