Do Career and Technical Education courses really help students?

They’re designed to help high school students transition into the working world, but are career and technical education (CTE) courses doing their job?

The July 2006 report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), titled “The Postsecondary Educational Experiences of High School Career and Technical Education Concentrators,” reveals that the majority of CTE students aren’t moving directly from high school into career training.

In an article titled “Is High School Career and Technical Education Obsolete?” Dr. Kenneth Gray, a professor of workforce education at Pennsylvania State University, explains how CTE courses should ideally work.

“… for students who 1) are at risk of dropping out of high school, 2) seek employment directly after high school, or 3) want to go to college at the one- or two-year level to prepare for preprofessional technical careers, CTE is arguably the most important curriculum in the American high school.”

It seems, however, that rather than transitioning students into the workplace or career training programs, the majority of these students are moving on to more traditional forms of postsecondary education.

The NCES report is based on findings from the National Educational Longitudinal Study. The study began in 1988 with a nationally representative sample of 8th graders and tracked their educational progress through the year 2000. Special attention was paid to students taking CTE courses, in the hopes of better understanding the relationship between that type of coursework and postsecondary educational experiences.

The report primarily focuses on students who attended two- and four-year postsecondary institutions. Information correlating to career colleges – the organizations that would seemingly be most likely to enroll these students after high school – is notably absent. According to the report, “Small sample size prohibited reporting data separately for students who initially enrolled in ‘other’ types of institutions.”

Instead of attending institutions that focus on career training, the report finds the majority of CTE students choose to study career-related courses at two- and four-year institutions. Fifty-six percent started their postsecondary education at community colleges, followed by 37 percent who began at four-year schools and 7 percent who studied at other types of institutions.

More information on CTE students

While disappointing in its inability to find a correlation between CTE programs and postsecondary career training institutions, the report does offer some interesting insights about CTE students. Listed below are some of these observations, separated by category.

Who are CTE students?

  • They’re more likely to come from a lower socioeconomic family background than other students.
  • The majority – 60 percent – are male.
  • They’re also more likely to have weaker academic preparation than students in general education and college prep curriculums.

What they study

  • CTE students were more likely to take postsecondary courses in business and engineering and related technology.
  • From the CTE students who enrolled in postsecondary education, about 50 percent earned a postsecondary degree or certificate by 2000. Forty-two percent of these certificates/degrees were awarded in trade and industry. Following up those fields in popularity were business and health care.
  • Sixty-four percent of students who earned an associates degree by 2000 studied in career-related fields. They were also more likely to earn degrees in business than other students.
  • Thirty-two percent earned a degree or certificate in a field related to the one they studied in high school.

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