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Reimagining Career and Technical Education

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This blog celebrates CTE Month 2014.

Career and technical education has an image problem. Students and parents sometimes see CTE as a non-academic track that leads away from postsecondary education and toward low-wage jobs that offer little economic security. These concerns are reflected in the steady decline over the past two and a half decades in the number of students who earn CTE credits. Yet a growing number of 21st-century CTE programs defy these stereotypes. They challenge students with academically rigorous courses, often in STEM fields such as engineering and computer science, set students on paths to postsecondary degrees and credentials, and equip students with skills and experience that are in demand among employers. This month, which has been designated Career and Technical Education Month, celebrates these innovative CTE programs.

The Pathways to Prosperity Network, a joint initiative of Jobs for the Future and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, brings together academic and CTE programs to create career-focused programs of study that embed work-based learning experiences tied to careers The Network convenes key stakeholders from the fields of education, business, and government to build grades 9 through 14 career pathways that are aligned with high-growth economic sectors, in fields such as information technology, health care, and advanced manufacturing.

States are taking this concept in a range of exciting directions that meet local and regional needs. New York State, for example, has launched P-TECH schools that partner with employers, including IBM, and community colleges to create work-based learning opportunities for students and ensure that they complete two years of college-level work leading to an Associate’s degree. In Illinois, the development of the Pathways education initiative led to the establishment of seven public-private learning exchanges that enable students to explore their academic and career interests in STEM fields.

An entire month has been devoted to celebrating CTE programs because there is much to celebrate. Students whose learning experiences include integrated academic and CTE curricula are well prepared for postsecondary education and equipped to compete in today’s tough labor market. Workers with skills in STEM fields are especially in demand: there are nearly two job postings for every jobseeker in STEM fields, as compared to almost four jobseekers for a single posting in non-STEM fields. Workers in STEM fields can expect to earn family-supporting wages—an average of $53,000 annually for workers without Bachelor’s degrees.

In addition to the ways in which it benefits students, a steady supply of skilled workers provides a clear boost to employers in STEM industries, to the national economy, and to workforce diversity. With four million women currently enrolled in community colleges across the nation, STEM fields offer the fulfilling careers and economic security that they seek. The nationwide call to action to engage more girls and women in STEM fields is gaining momentum and Pathways to Prosperity is actively responding.

Reimagining CTE is a complex task that requires K-12 and postsecondary education systems, employers, policymakers, and community partners to work together and to balance a wide range of needs and priorities. But the potential pay-offs of this work are worth the investment it requires.

Read our other CTE Month blog here.