Picture this: A long-haired teenager in a metal band t-shirt works full-time as the manager of a local restaurant. He’s very ambitious, hardworking, and smart. But, today he’s skipping school — as he did yesterday and the day before — to earn money and gain skills, experience, and knowledge that could help him build his career. Impact and Influence of CTE. He was once a star pupil eager to learn everything and apply it to the world around him. He once associated school with growing and developing. But, like most students across the country, he slowly checked out from the education system — because to him “going to school” became the purpose of that system rather than personal growth supported by that system.
So, now, he’s disengaged from school. Struggling to find purpose there. Unable to see the relevance of what he’s being taught. He’s left wanting more than his school experience gives him.
He’s decided the “real world” will provide him with bigger opportunities to grow and develop. Sure, he’ll show up to school on test days to maintain the status quo, but he’s back out the door as soon as he submits his answers. He’s hopeful that he’ll find his way in life. But, unsure if more schooling will play a role in that life.
This story wasn’t curated just to make a point. It’s a true story. It’s one that I’m very familiar with because that student was me.
Fast forward 30 years
Not much has changed for today’s students — except for the stakes.
Students face the same fundamental issues that I experienced, but the last 30 years have made the competition for skills tighter than ever. Technology advances are changing the economy and every career field so fast (think revolutionary technologies like ChatGPT, autonomous vehicles, smart assistants, nanotechnology) that the pressure on our students is enormous — and growing every day.
That’s why it’s vital that we make education more relevant for today’s students. They, and the world, need them to gain and grow higher levels of skill earlier in their education and career development. Gallup research shows that students rapidly start to disengage as early as 5th grade, and, by high school, around 66% of students are unengaged. This is unacceptable — both for the individual student and for the economy. Every student has a unique and valuable genius and the economy needs the genius of every student.
There is hope. There is a better way.
Tomorrow marks the start of Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month and with it, the opportunity to raise awareness for and celebrate the value of CTE programs.
What’s a CTE program?
CTE programs have evolved since my time in high school. Back then, CTE courses were known as “vocational” programs that were primarily focused on trades, like carpentry and auto mechanics.
Today, CTE is a broad term that brings real-world skills into the classroom for all career fields — from agriscience to construction management to logistics to computer, mechanical and electrical engineering, and everything in between. These programs combine rigorous academic and technical skills with the knowledge and training students need to better enter today’s high-skilled labor market more confident and prepared for the future.
From the fundamentals of building a webpage for a business to methods for improving crop yields, CTE programs offer a dynamic learning environment that helps students more easily connect what they learn in the classroom to how they can use it in a real-world setting (something a certain long-haired teenager would have eagerly benefitted from).
Impact and Influence of CTE programs
Since CTE programs have been around for a while, we have lots of research and data that speaks to the positive impact these programs have on students. Here are three key statistics from Advance CTE to consider:
- 95% graduation rate. CTE concentrators — or students who complete three or more CTE classes — graduate high school at roughly 10 percentage points higher than the national average.
- 78% enroll. CTE concentrators enroll in postsecondary education full-time immediately after graduating (compared to 65% of all students) with 50% going on to earn a postsecondary credential or certificate.
- 4 percentage points. CTE completers — or students who take all courses within a program of study — have significantly higher ACT composite scores than non-CTE students.
Graduation rates. Postsecondary involvement. Test scores. And, according to a study by Association for Career and Technical Education, CTE concentrators were also “more likely to earn a postsecondary award within two and five years of graduation.”
Why? CTE programs give students relevance, purpose, direction, and hope for their futures.
Steps to move forward
Consider these action items to help more students experience the positive impact and influence of CTE programs:
Improve equity in CTE exposure
A recent YouScience study found that male students are more likely to be aware of CTE classes (70% of male high school graduates vs 50% of females). We must do more to raise awareness of the availability of CTE programs and ensure all students understand the power they hold.
One way to start improving equity is by shifting to aptitude-based college and career guidance. Aptitude assessments help remove biases and broaden students’ views of what’s possible for their futures. They give students a better understanding of “why” they’re learning what they’re learning. They help students uncover more about themselves and the way their brains work. This is key to helping students see themselves in a broader range of in-demand careers they have strengths for — not just the ones they know, may have heard about, or have seen on TV.
Fund CTE programs nationwide
We have millions of students in CTE programs across all U.S. states and territories. And while there are opportunities to obtain funding through grants — like Perkins V or, more recently, ESSER funding — there’s more work to be done. These programs shouldn’t be reliant on winning grant funds or appeals to external sponsors. The benefits are proven to be too great to just receive leftover education dollars.
CTE programs should be fully funded. Full stop.
(I’ll save the broader topic of overall school funding for another day.)
Create more synergy between education and industry
Education and industry are facing severe problems. The Great Resignation. Skills gaps. College enrollment declines. Relevance gaps. And the list goes on.
But these issues shouldn’t be seen in silos.
Rather, problems that can be best addressed when education and industry work together. And CTE programs offer an obvious way to get started.
CTE programs are enhanced by industry engagement. It enables students to start building their networks, testing the waters in a career pathway, and growing their resumes. Students gain a sense of purpose and their intent to persist on the education path grows.
Industry benefits by creating a home-grown pool of future talent with the knowledge, skills, and abilities they need to hit the ground running and meet the future needs of ever-increasing technology advances. Talent they know have already engaged with their industry in meaningful ways and who are ready to succeed.
When education and industry align, everyone wins.
Start where you are
Every community, every school, and every industry is at a different starting point of how best to increase and improve CTE programs and education and industry partnerships. Don’t let this dissuade or overwhelm you. Every step towards building a better more industry-aligned program is a step in the right direction.
If your school doesn’t have industry partners today, reach out to one. There are always employers that want to be involved.
If your industry is not involved in your local education system, call the school and ask for the CTE or career guidance counselor. They are always needing and wanting more support and information.
If you are a parent, kindly but firmly, ensure your district knows that you know that CTE programs change lives, improve outcomes, and support families and the economy in powerful ways. Let them know that our kids deserve to be engaged in their future careers today.
Career-connected learning does make a difference and it doesn’t take much to start to turn the tide of disengaged students, to fully engaged and thriving students. CTE programs hold many of the keys to helping this happen quickly. If you’re unsure where to start or what to do, reach out to YouScience. We would be happy to share how you can connect education and industry today.