For decades now, the education community has stated that the majority of students who drop out of high school do so not because high school is too hard, but because they are too bored by the content or don’t see the relevance of what they are learning.
Even those who do graduate from high school by taking a common curriculum are left to wonder what the world holds for them. With college costs rising, many of these students and their families are questioning the value of a four-year college degree, concerned over the crushing cost of student loans compared to the career paths available to them post-graduation.
Often lost in these discussions is the discussion of career and technical education (CTE). For some, career and technical education still suffers a stigma, a belief that CTE is a world of the auto shop classes of the 1950s or a program designed to hold those students who struggle too greatly in a traditional academic schedule.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
In the past year, policymakers in Washington, D.C., have sought to re-embrace the CTE path, seeing the incredible impact career and technical education can have in meeting the nation’s employment needs of the future.
Community colleges are seeing CTE—and not early college—as their path toward growth and continued success. And learners are seeing CTE as one of the few opportunities to study their interests and passions in a high school environment.
Earlier this month, The Manufacturing Institute released Attracting the Next Generation of Students: The Role of Career and Technical Education. This exciting new report highlights many truths behind the rebirth of CTE and the motivations of the students who are quietly driving it. These are facts that we can and should learn from.
Fact One: CTE teachers believe industry-recognized credentials are valuable to students beginning their careers, with 65 percent saying industry certificates are among the most valuable education credentials after graduating high school.
Lesson Learned: As educators, we should be doing more to communicate the value proposition of career and technical education to today’s students and their families. The credentials are important. Equally important are the jobs, job security and strong salaries that can come to those holding the industry certificates. Our emphasis should be on the credential as a mile marker on the career path, not as the final destination.
Fact Two: Despite the value of the credential, more than a third of CTE students (35 percent) enrolled in CTE courses say they have no contact with future employers, with only 12 percent experiencing site visits, 13 percent having pathway-related after-school jobs and 20 percent having pathway-related summer jobs.
Lesson Learned: Part of a CTE education should be a “clinical experience,” where students are participating in and learning from the very careers they seek to achieve. We expect teachers to work with experienced educators in clinical experiences, seeing how they can apply what they learn as a student in their classrooms as teachers.
We should be looking for the same with our CTE students, where they learn from knowledgeable individuals in the field about the job and the future. This isn’t just apprenticeships or internships. This is understanding the career and technical paths available today and tomorrow.
Fact Three: According to the study, nearly 2 in 3 students (63 percent) enrolled in CTE courses see their own interests and experiences as a major influence in their career pathways. Their parents are the second-largest influence.
Lesson Learned: We need to do more to encourage students to pursue their individual interests and passions, while making opportunities available that align with student perceptions of their futures. This requires greater understanding of how today’s high school students are thinking about their futures, pressing beyond the traditional “I plan to go to college” responses to better understand how they relate to STEM, 21st-century skills, CTE and other such pursuits that are provided to them in high school.
Most students today understand that the goals of their parents—to graduate high school, go to college, and get a job (any job)—are not their goals.
Today’s learners want to be engaged and inspired. They want to transform their personal interests into their professional opportunities. And they don’t want to be limited by the jobs, the industries or the courses of previous generations.
The Manufacturing Institute’s study provides some foundational learning on how CTE fits into that thinking. We, as a community, must now commit to building on those lessons to provide meaningful CTE learning experiences, relationships and job opportunities to all who seek it.