3 Reasons Why CTE is the Pathway to a Great Future

In light of CTE’s many advantages, the question is not “why CTE?” but rather, “why not CTE?”


Why CTE?

In a world where “college for all” is considered the gold standard in education, why should a young person choose a career and technical education (CTE) pathway in high school? What value does CTE actually impart? After all, if they’re headed to college, why do they need to learn a technical skill?

Many reasons leap to mind. Here are three of the most vital arguments for CTE as a pathway to a great future.


1.      CTE is a Collegebound Track

CTE and college are often wrongly perceived as two separate pathways. This false dichotomy cheats many students of the rich experience of participating in a CTE program during high school.

Far from steering a student away from college, in reality CTE directly corresponds to college success. 94 percent of CTE students graduate high school and many enroll directly in college, where they are prepared to thrive. One example of this is in California, where 80% of students taking a college prep academic curriculum with rigorous CTE met college and career readiness goals, compared to 63% of non-CTE students.

Today, CTE has evolved with technological advances and the demands of a changing, globalizing workforce to prepare young people with the skills of the future. It is now the gateway to hundreds of high-demand, high-skilled careers and occupations at all levels of education and experience. For many careers, college is one of those educational levels—and high school CTE programs can help students not just get there, but succeed when they do.

Because many parents and students believe college is the only surefire way to a great future, they fear the perceived career commitment of CTE. Ironically, this causes them to miss the opportunity CTE affords for a fully rounded, comprehensive high school experience that will equip them for college success.

CTE is a track that can take you wherever you want to go—college included.


2.    CTE Improves Academic Performance

In the past, it’s true that lower-performing students were often guided into vocational programs, while their academically stronger counterparts were exclusively counseled to take the university route. But times have changed, and CTE has now grown far beyond the useful but limited vocational programs of the past.

Career education improves academic performance not only because it has become more intellectually challenging, but also because it inspires students to do their best no matter what classroom they happen to be sitting in. It achieves this by bringing the most commonly missing piece to the education puzzle: relevance.

Lack of intelligence is not the reason that many students are struggling academically. Rather, they just don’t see the relevance of academic effort to their goals and desires in life. No dots have been connected between working hard in school and enjoying a desirable lifestyle in the future. Not only that, but many don’t even have a clear picture of what they want that future lifestyle to look like. That’s where CTE can help.

A student who understands that a certain GPA is required to enter his desired profession will be motivated to do the work, earn the grades, and advance closer to his goal. Academic subjects then become less of a chore and more of a stepping stone to whatever career that student has become passionate about attaining. Career passions are awakened through research and class engagement with the related industry (it also helps students weed out the options that aren’t for them).

CTE can help make the rest of education relevant—unleashing a student’s full academic potential.


3.    CTE Creates More Choices

Let’s say you are a pretty good high school student. None of the available CTE programs look appealing to you. You don’t want to work on cars, the electrical field is not your thing, and you can’t see yourself pursuing a career in medicine. Your passion is more for law or maybe even politics. What should you do?

Conventional wisdom would advise you to skip the career programs altogether and focus on your best academic subjects to increase your chances of getting into the college of your choice. And while that may not be a bad path to take, it completely misses the competitive advantages that could help you reach your lawyer/politician aspirations. How so?

First off, it never hurts to gain a useful, lifelong skill. Maybe you don’t want to be an electrician, but wouldn’t you like to be able to do simple wiring in your home? An automotive career may not be for you, but being able to change your own oil and make simple repairs to your vehicle will save significant money. And who doesn’t want to know CPR? If you can gain these useful skills at no cost alongside your other high school coursework, why not?

Second, these skills are not just useful to you, but also marketable in the workforce. It never hurts to have a “plan B” in case “plan A” doesn’t pan out. Even beyond that, you can use the skills you gained in your CTE program to earn an above-average wage and fund your further education in a different field.

Third, it’s just possible that you may have an unguessed genius for the beautiful precision of electrical work, the inspiring intricacy of modern cars, or the yet-more amazing complexity of the human body. What if you discovered a passion you never knew you had through a CTE program? You’ll never know until you try. And even if you still hold to your previous aspirations, you’ve still gained useful, marketable skills that can serve you in other ways. It’s a win-win.

Fortunately, the range of high school career education programs is usually not as limited as in my imaginary scenario. But even if the choices are that limited, they are still that: choices.

CTE creates more choices and opportunities for the future, without closing any other doors.


A Competitive Advantage for Every Student

Students who are immersed in rigorous, hands-on learning activities will love going to school—setting the stage for positive postsecondary performance. They’ll achieve their best academically, because they’ve seen the connection between their effort and their goals. Students who are passionate about their future will make the most of their present.

CTE improves academic performance and graduation rates by engaging students more deeply in their education, allowing them to choose the pathway that fits their interests and personality. Through CTE, high school students can discover what they love to do so that when they head to college, they’re focused on their end goal and ready to succeed. If this isn’t an amazing college, career, and life prep pathway and competitive advantage for every student, I don’t know what is.

The question is not “why CTE?” What we really need to be asking is, “Why not CTE?”


About the Author

Mark C. Perna is the founder and CEO of TFS Results, a strategic consulting firm leading the national paradigm shift in education and workforce development. A bestselling author, weekly Forbes.com contributor, and acclaimed generational expert, Mark has devoted his career to education and frequently keynotes across North America. Find out more at MarkCPerna.com.


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