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The Benefits of Career and Technical Education (CTE) and Profiles of Leading States

Keaton Katic
June 6, 2024

Career and Technical Education (CTE) provides students with targeted training and skills for a variety of careers that don’t require a traditional college degree. These careers can include roles in skilled trades, healthcare, service, and hospitality industries. CTE programs may start in middle school and extend through high school into post-secondary education, offering a practical, hands-on approach to learning.

CTE differs from traditional education by emphasizing practical skill development and real-world application. Students gain valuable hands-on experience and often earn industry certifications that qualify them for quick employment. There are three key types of CTE programs available:

  • CTE Courses: Students enroll in CTE courses as part of their graduation path.
  • CTE Schools: Students attend CTE-directed schools and follow a CTE pathway to receive their diplomas. This is still part of their K-12 experience.
  • Post-Secondary or Vocational Schools: These are CTE post-secondary schools dedicated to hands-on training.

This blog will examine the specific benefits of CTE and highlight the states that are leading the way in providing outstanding CTE opportunities.

Why We Need CTE

The United States faces a workforce challenge due to a skills gap, particularly in jobs that require a high school diploma, post-secondary certificate, or associate degree. According to the US Department of Education, 30 million jobs are paying median earnings of $55,000 or more that don’t require a bachelor's degree. CTE provides a solution by equipping young adults with essential skills starting in high school. The reauthorization of the Strengthening Career and Technical Education Act for the 21st Century (Perkins V) underscores federal commitment to addressing these issues, and enhancing CTE programs to better prepare students for the workforce. Washington, Kentucky, and New York are leading the way in CTE excellence, setting high standards for preparing students for fulfilling careers with innovative education models. Today, we’ll explore why these states are excelling in CTE and the benefits of this approach to education.

States Leading the CTE Charge

Washington

Washington’s CTE programs emphasize aligning education with industry needs through an integrated approach across the K-20 education system. The K-20 education system encompasses the entire continuum of education from kindergarten through higher education, including colleges and universities. The state focuses on developing occupationally specific skills and competencies that adhere to state and national core content standards. A key aspect of Washington's CTE is the emphasis on employability and leadership skills, which are woven into the content of each course, encouraging students to participate in related student leadership organizations.

According to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) - Career and Technical Education, students in Washington’s CTE programs develop and apply the skills necessary for success in a diverse society, including respect for different cultures and the elimination of harassment and bias. The programs support career planning, development, and transitions to employment or post-secondary education. Washington ensures that CTE instructional equipment, facilities, and environments mirror those used in the workplace to provide a realistic training experience.

According to Perkins V, program-specific advisory committees, including representatives from business, industry, and labor, guide the continuous improvement of CTE programs, reflecting the diversity of the community. Annual reviews ensure these programs remain relevant and effective. Washington’s extensive and flexible CTE programs are designed to prepare students for the evolving needs of the workforce and their futures.

Kentucky

The Kentucky Department of Education's Office of Career and Technical Education (OCTE) is a cornerstone of the state's educational and accountability system. Central to Kentucky's CTE programs are the four-course career and technical education pathways, designed to guide students through their educational journeys with flexible entry and exit points tailored to individual needs. These pathways are structured to offer early post-secondary opportunities through recognized industry certifications, end-of-program assessments with articulation agreements, tech-ready apprenticeships for careers in Kentucky, and dual credit options, ensuring a smooth transition into the workforce or further education for graduates.

Kentucky boasts over 135 state-approved career pathways across 13 CTE program areas, reflecting a broad spectrum of career possibilities. Additionally, the state collaborates with local districts to develop region-specific pathways, enhancing the relevance and applicability of CTE programs to local economic needs.

The state’s CTE programs extend beyond traditional classroom learning, emphasizing the development of essential skills through participation in Career and Technical Student Organizations (CTSOs). These organizations provide students with leadership opportunities and hands-on experiences vital for their future careers.

Kentucky's commitment to CTE is underscored by its partnerships with business and industry leaders, ensuring that the programs remain aligned with current and future job market demands. This collaboration helps prepare students for the evolving workforce, making Kentucky a leader in shaping the careers of tomorrow. The state's dynamic CTE community offers endless possibilities for students to explore and develop their skills, setting a strong foundation for their professional futures.

New York

New York’s CTE programs are designed to integrate academic and technical instruction across various content areas. The state offers over 1,100 CTE providers, serving approximately 140,000 students in nearly 3,000 secondary programs and 190,000 students at the post-secondary level.

Central to New York's CTE programs are the key components of curriculum and instruction, work-based learning, industry and post-secondary partnerships, and assessment and accountability. Each CTE program strives to offer a quality curriculum that integrates English language arts, mathematics, science, economics, and technical instruction. Schools use a curriculum crosswalk to align learning outcomes with state and industry standards, ensuring that the programs meet the high standards set by the New York State Education Department.

Work-based learning (WBL) is a critical element of New York’s CTE, providing students with opportunities to gain real-world experience through internships, job shadowing, and industry-specific projects. These experiences help students build a bridge from classroom learning to professional roles, promoting the development of broad, transferable skills.

Industry and post-secondary partnerships play a significant role in New York's CTE programs. Advisory boards comprising industry professionals and post-secondary partners ensure the programs align with college pathways and meet labor market needs. These collaborations provide students with advanced placement, college credit, tuition waivers, and job placement opportunities.

New York's approach to CTE is further strengthened by rigorous assessment and accountability measures. The state requires technical assessments that are nationally recognized, based on industry standards, and include written demonstration and project components. These assessments ensure that students can demonstrate their skills and knowledge effectively, preparing them for successful careers and further education.

Common Themes Across States

Common themes across CTE programs in Washington, Kentucky, and New York include alignment with industry needs, integration of academic and technical skills, and emphasis on employability and leadership. Each state prioritizes real-world experiences through work-based learning, industry partnerships, and continuous program improvement. They offer pathways for certifications, dual credit options, and articulation agreements, preparing students for the workforce or further education. As a whole, these states ensure that CTE programs remain relevant and effective by fostering essential skills and strong industry connections.

CTE Programs Are Preparing the Workforce of Tomorrow

CTE programs are pivotal in preparing students for successful careers by providing practical skills and hands-on learning experiences. States that excel in CTE foster supportive, student-centered environments, ensuring students are well-prepared to transition into the workforce. As demonstrated by Washington, Kentucky, and New York, these programs effectively align education with industry needs, ensuring students are well-equipped for the workforce of tomorrow. By fostering essential skills and strong industry connections, these states exemplify the transformative potential of CTE.

Keaton Katic

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