Addressing the Stigma around Career and Technical Education

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Career and technical education (CTE) is getting quite a bit of love this year. In June, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Act—the main piece of federal legislation governing these types of programs—with a focus on giving states greater autonomy in funding CTE and aligning it with local workforce needs. And the Trump administration has launched a push to expand apprenticeships, including those suited for students looking to enter the workforce right after high school.

Inside Higher Ed recently reported that California is making a sizable investment of $200 million annually to strengthen CTE programs within the state’s community college system. The effort has many components—from closer collaboration between colleges, businesses and workforce boards to curriculum updates and new faculty—but perhaps the most striking element is a $6 million marketing campaign to change the way CTE is perceived by both current and prospective students. This piece could very well turn out to be the key to success for the whole effort.

Here in the U.S., career and technical education continues to suffer from an image problem. Too often, students and parents view it as a path to menial, low-paid jobs for those who are not ready for college. Efforts to improve the quality of CTE programs and emerging opportunities in well-paying, high-growth industries like renewable energy, advanced manufacturing and health care have so far been insufficient in changing those opinions.

Alternatively, students may not be aware of what CTE is. According to the Inside Higher Ed story, California’s community college system conducted a study in 2016 that found “30 percent of students who were currently enrolled in career and technical programs had heard about CTE but said they didn’t know anything about it.” Without a meaningful shift in the way CTE is being perceived, investments in the quality and quantity of these programs will only go so far.

I’m originally from Germany, and much has been written recently about how that country’s apprenticeship system could be a model for reforms in the U.S. There are many reasons why Germany’s system is strong, including academic rigor and close involvement by employers in determining what students learn. But one of the greatest advantages is that German apprenticeships are widely seen as a respectable way to earn a high-quality credential that prepares students for a successful, well-paying career. And this view is even shared by many high school graduates who have strong grades and could easily pursue a college degree.

Ultimately, the key to removing the stigma around CTE and broadening its appeal will be to showcase how these programs work and where they can lead through personal stories. When it comes to education communications, one rule is increasingly important: Data is good, but stories are better. While there are plenty of studies to back up the positive effects of CTE, overcoming misinformation and prejudice will be easier when prospective students see how these programs have helped peers with whom they can identify.

From high-performing students already accepted into college to those whose talents are better suited for hands-on learning, apprenticeships and other CTE programs can effectively serve a broad spectrum of future workers. But they need to be aware of the opportunities.

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Addressing the Stigma around Career and Technical Education

Cybersecurity-datacenter

Career and technical education (CTE) is getting quite a bit of love this year. In June, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Act—the main piece of federal legislation governing these types of programs—with a focus on giving states greater autonomy in funding CTE and aligning it with local workforce needs. And the Trump administration has launched a push to expand apprenticeships, including those suited for students looking to enter the workforce right after high school.
Inside Higher Ed recently reported that California is making a sizable investment of $200 million annually to strengthen CTE programs within the state’s community college system. The effort has many components—from closer collaboration between colleges, businesses and workforce …

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Education

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