Today’s education reporters may often find themselves following students out of the classroom and into their first jobs. Though academic achievement remains paramount, high schools and colleges are putting greater focus on helping students navigate careers and ready themselves for work.
Modern “career and technical education (CTE),” however, is a far cry from the broken “vocational education” programs of decades past. New approaches – such as modernized apprenticeship programs and dual enrollment – combine academic achievement with career preparation. Under the best of these programs, students move seamlessly between school and work with opportunities to advance in both.
Education reporters will find a profusion of innovative models to explore, as well as an evolving debate around equity and the role of education in workforce development.
Today’s CTE programs represent a dramatic break from the past, when educators treated academics and workforce readiness as largely separate domains.
Historically, students deemed unlikely to succeed in higher education were “tracked” into trade-focused “voc ed” programs, while others enrolled in courses aimed at college preparation. This practice perpetuated enormous systemic inequities; vocational programs were of notoriously poor quality, disproportionately enrolled low-income and minority students and students with disabilities, and often sent students into low-skilled, dead-end jobs.
Emerging CTE programs, however, don’t treat work and school as an either/or choice. Rather, they combine academic rigor with technical training and create pathways to advancement through both college and career. Modern apprenticeship programs, for instance, often offer participants a chance to earn a degree while they work. Most also partner with local businesses so students get hands-on experience and companies get the skilled workers they need.
Several trends ensure career preparation will likely be an important part of the education beat. Employers increasingly want graduates who are workplace-ready with “soft” skills as well as specific technical expertise. Students (and their parents) want career returns on their education investment as college costs rise. Educators are also finding that effective CTE programs can be viable alternatives to traditional four-year degrees, providing more avenues to good jobs for more students. New models of CTE have also sparked fresh debate over equity and tracking, program quality, and the value of “certificates,” “certifications” and other non-degree credentials.