Helping students get ahead with career and technical education (CTE)

career and technical education culinary artsVocational education programs have a long history in the United States. Emerging in the 1870s, vocational schools were typically tasked with preparing students for careers requiring specific training besides a bachelor’s degree.

While not the same as the increasingly popular career and technical education (CTE) offered by the vast majority of public school districts today, the two educational strategies have one significant commonality: they both emphasize real-world skills and highly focused, industry-specific knowledge. 

In this article, we’ll define career and technical education, dive into its rising popularity, discuss its benefits, and touch on how consistent, reliable transportation is essential for any student engaged in CTE programming. 

What is career and technical education (CTE)?

Career and technical education is a general term for a modern, hybrid curriculum that focuses on academic abilities and the technical skills, knowledge and training students need to succeed in today’s workplaces.

Many school districts provide CTE for various career pathways, including media, automotive repair, construction, computer sciences, engineering, agriculture, robotics, culinary arts and entrepreneurship.

career and technical educationOne thing to note is that enrollment in CTE programming doesn’t always indicate that a student will enter the labor market directly after high school and not continue on to college. Many CTE programs are supplementary, providing enrolled students with the in-classroom education and the hands-on learning experiences required to think differently, understand career opportunities, test the skills they’ve honed on paper in real life and better prepare for college. 

However, CTE can also prepare students for jobs that do not require a bachelor’s degree. According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than 30 million American jobs that pay over $55,000 annually do not require a four-year degree. With the right CTE, high schools can ensure their students have the skills necessary to thrive in these workplaces. 

Because CTE integrates widely accepted academic knowledge with industry-validated occupational experiences, CTE students are often extraordinarily prepared for the nuanced and oftentimes specialized challenges of college and the workplace. 

CTE participation

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 98% of public school districts offered some form of CTE programming to high school students during the 2016–2017 school year.

career and technical education automotive repairWhile not every type of programming or study area is made available to every student in every school district, 2019 data from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) indicates that 77% of districts offered internships or other forms of on-the-job training. According to the same data, participation in CTE was significant across all demographics, with percentages ranging from 71 to 80% for Asian, Hispanic, Black, multiracial, and White students, respectively. 

Still, there is a difference between participating in CTE programming and genuinely focusing on it. Only 37% of high school students were “CTE concentrators.” These students, who also belong to a variety of diverse demographic groups, focused on various “career clusters.” In 2017, the most popular concentrations of CTE programming were:

  • Arts, Audio-Visual Technology, and Communication
  • Business Management and Administration
  • Health Science

CTE benefits and availability

One must-know CTE fact: The same DOE study referenced above suggests that eight years after graduation, high school students who focused on CTE had higher median annual earnings than those who did not. It’s no surprise, then, that educators — and legislators — are eager to unlock more of the widespread, well-known benefits of CTE. 

In 2019, the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act was passed into law. Often referred to as “Perkins V,” the legislation solidified the importance of CTE and authorized significant funding to increase access to programming. The law underscored the benefits of employability skills, expanded CTE exposure to middle-school-aged students, emphasized collaboration between states and community-based partners, and outlined funding eligibility.

What’s more, Perkins V also expanded access to CTE to “special populations,” including youth experiencing homelessness, foster youth and more. In addition, the law helped states set aside additional funding to provide CTE programs to more rural areas or areas where students face other significant disadvantages. 

Transportation for CTE students

CTE does not simply occur in the classroom between traditional bell times. Instead, these programs are sometimes offered at CTE centers, local community colleges, technical colleges, online, at fully dedicated CTE-focused high schools or at conventional high schools located within another school district.

It’s also important to remember that many CTE students hold internships and work with mentors to gain knowledge and put their skills to the test. 

To access and benefit from CTE, students must have reliable transportation. Inadequate transportation is, unfortunately, a well-documented roadblock to educational equity, and that’s true with CTE programming as well. Here's what one of our education partners has to say about working with HopSkipDrive to get their students where they need to go: 

"The transportation team at Spokane Public Schools is excited to have a flexible and innovative transportation solution for individual students that will support their unique educational needs. Spokane Public Schools is committed to providing a strong selection of programs to prepare all of our students for life after high school. HopSkipDrive will help meet those program needs."

—Salliejo Evers, Director of Transportation, Spokane Public Schools

While it’s challenging enough to ensure the most vulnerable students can secure the transportation they need to get to and from school every day, CTE students also deserve the same access to educational opportunities, both on campus and off. 

As always, school districts — and the transportation professionals who support them — should carefully evaluate everything from bus routes to contracts with alternative transportation providers to ensure that all students have fair and equal access to CTE. 

Keep in mind that legislation, IEPs, and other grants, programming, and local requirements can help your school district secure and pay for the transportation your most vulnerable students need. 

Interested in learning about how HopSkipDrive partners with school districts to support the transportation needs for students enrolled in CTE programs?


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