What it Means to Build Effective CTE Programming — and Why it Matters
Let’s establish something right at the outset of this article: career and technical education (CTE) has always mattered. It’s been a cornerstone of college and career readiness for over a century, according to the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE). As a concept, it’s as old as the country is, when apprenticeships were the most common form of what we now think of as public education.
The most recent count of students enrolled in some kind of CTE class clocks in at a full 58% of American high schoolers, and the hands-on experience and exposure inside of those classrooms is a critical part of preparing young adults to enter the modern workforce. With numbers like those, it doesn’t really get the airplay you would expect. Why that is depends on who you talk to, and changes from state to state and district to district. Sometimes it’s a lack of resources, sometimes it’s an overabundance of misconceptions. Increasingly, it’s simply due to the fact that the conversation around college and career readiness is a rapidly changing one, and school districts, educators, and legislators are working around the clock to build better solutions for students.
The simple fact is that whether or not CTE has been a popular topic in the past, it’s certainly coming into the spotlight now. Building a comprehensive and effective solution for CTE students is codified into the experience SchooLinks provides. It’s part of what makes us a modern college and career readiness platform for all students. Here’s how we do it.
The Foundation for Effective Career and Technical Education: Equity in Focus
As the workforce evolves, state legislative initiatives are evolving to keep up. Recently enacted laws and sweeping changes to education in states like Texas, Ohio, and Illinois have all included mandates for broadening the focus of college and career readiness by assigning equal weight to CTE by including career pathway planning in district compliance measures.
The Critical Keystone for Effective CTE: Engaged Industry Partners
There’s an established body of research that explores all of the ways that industry partner engagement helps create better outcomes for students, both while they’re still in school and from a postsecondary standpoint. That’s a great place to start, but it’s also a good idea to zoom out and consider how to maximize benefits to the industry partners themselves, as well. Here are two numbers that can help achieve that bigger picture: 30 million and 69%.
Let’s start with the 30 Million. That’s the number of “good jobs” — roles with a median salary of at $55,000 a year — that don’t require a Bachelor’s degree, according to research from Georgetown University.
With that in mind, let’s talk about that 69%. That’s the percentage of human resources professionals who report that an inability to recruit and retain talent for those jobs frequently impacts a firm's performance, according to research from Harvard Business School.
On its face, that pair of facts looks like a paradox. Why is it proving so hard to recruit and retain talent for such a wide swath of the labor market, especially when those roles pay so well? The answer lies in the so-called “awareness gap”: these jobs are being overlooked, and are therefore chronically under-filled. If the question is: “How can we help students succeed after high school while creating sustainable and healthy local economies?” then bridging the awareness gap is certainly the answer.
Partnerships between K-12 school districts and industry professionals help accomplish that.
Industry partnerships help create talent pipelines in school districts
By introducing students to real-world representations of what it means to work in specialized, “middle skills”, or rapidly-growing professions, healthy industry partnerships allow both employers and school districts to capture student interest when it matters most — as student are beginning to discover their strengths and interests and contextualize them for inclusion in their postsecondary plans.
The missing piece: how financial literacy builds better CTE programs
The final building block in the overall architecture of effective CTE is a willingness to address financial literacy. Traditionally, students have gravitated toward one of two options to work with during postsecondary planning. The first is to pursue a four-year degree.This option is usually positioned as the “gold standard” outcome, financially speaking, with the lifetime earnings associated with a Bachelor’s degree or higher serving as the metric to justify that positioning.
When students forego this first option, it’s often because they’re clear-eyed about the expense attached to it, with a growing number of students citing cost as an obstacle to pursuing it. The other option students consider is entering the workforce directly after earning a high school diploma or its equivalent. Sure, the associated lifetime earning potential of careers this training qualifies them for is not as high, but then again, neither is the barrier to entry in the form of student loan debt. This is an important distinction for student populations that lack financial resources, like the 26% of students in districts that use SchooLinks and also qualify for Free & Reduced Lunch.