The current state of CTE

The current state of CTE

Dear Colleagues:

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) just released its latest survey of secondary career and technical education (CTE) programs in the United States. Here are a few of its findings for the 2016-17 school year:

Districts reported that the following entities delivered their CTE programs:

  • the district itself (77% of districts)
  • area/regional CTE centers or a group or consortium of school districts (54% of districts)
  • two-year community or technical colleges (46% of districts)
  • four-year colleges or universities (11% of districts)

Seventy-three percent of districts offered CTE courses for which students could earn both high school and postsecondary credit; 61% offered CTE courses for which students could earn high school credits in math, science, English/language arts, or social studies; and 30% offered online CTE courses, including blended/hybrid courses.

Districts also reported the following large or very large barriers to offering high school CTE programs:

  • lack of funding or high cost of programs (50% of districts)
  • finding or keeping teachers for in-demand industries and occupations (44% of districts)
  • facilities or space limitations (43% of districts)

These barriers are not a surprise and each is a function of funding -- or the lack thereof. Learn more by reading the full report.

Recent press has addressed the importance of CTE as a strategy to address the skilled worker shortage. See, for example, this report from PBS NewsHour that quotes yours truly. It would appear that the time is ripe for substantially increasing federal, state and business investments in CTE. But what do the data suggest?

At the federal level, Perkins funding saw a modest increase for FY2018 to $1.2 billion. This is about the same level of funding as in 2000, a period of similarly low unemployment and skill shortages. But adjusted for inflation, it is in reality a half-billion lower investment than 18 years ago.

At the state level, although some states are increasing their investments in CTE or CTE-related programs like work-based learning, the trend or actual change in their investment is not clear.

At the business level, Peter Cappelli at the Wharton School of Business has summarized the research on how employers invest in training new workers. Responsibility has largely shifted from employers developing employees' skills to individual employees -- or the public -- paying for that training. Cappelli notably cites the decline of apprenticeship programs and apprentices since 2000.

At best, these three principal funding sources may be doing no more than they did in the past to support CTE. At worst, they may be doing less. Our students and our economy deserve more.

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