Looking Inside the Black Box: The Value Added by Career and Technical Student Organizations to Students' High School Experience

Looking Inside the Black Box: The Value Added by Career and Technical Student Organizations to Students' High School Experience

Jun 2007


Corinne Alfeld
James R. Stone, III
National Research Center for Career and Technical Education
University of Minnesota

Steven R. Aragon
David M. Hansen
University of Illinois

Christopher Zirkle
James Connors
Ohio State University

Matt Spindler
SUNY Oswego

Rebecca Swinburne Romine
University of Minnesota

Hui-Jeong Woo
University of Illinois


In addition to hands-on learning in classrooms and work-related activities such as co-op, many CTE programs offer a career-focused student organization, known as a Career and Technical Student Organization, or CTSO. CTSOs have been touted as developing such characteristics as leadership and employability skills in students; however, there is little research definitively showing the benefits of participation in CTSOs. In this study, we hypothesized that CTSOs provide a variety of experiences that either directly or indirectly affect three important outcomes of secondary education: achievement, transition to postsecondary education and training, and employability. A pretest/posttest comparison study of high school students in CTE classes that included a CTSO, CTE classes without a CTSO, and general non-CTE classes such as English and social studies was conducted over the course of one academic year. Findings showed that, on a variety of measures, CTSO students began the school year with similar or higher scores than the other groups of students and did not change (gain or lose) as much as did the other groups over the course of the year. With the exception of college aspirations—where students in the general classrooms reported the highest levels—the scores of the CTSO students remained higher than those of students in the other two groups on all measures. A positive association between amount of CTSO participation and academic motivation, academic engagement, grades, career self-efficacy, college aspirations, and employability skills was also found. Finally, of the four specific organizational elements of CTSOs (leadership, community service, competitions, and professional development), competitions were found to have the most positive effects. The potential benefit of CTSO participation to a larger and more heterogeneous group of students is discussed.

Alfeld, C., Stone, J. R., Aragon, S. R., Hansen, D. M., Zirkle, C., & Connors, J., et al. (2007). Looking inside the black box: The value added by career and technical student organizations to students' high school experience. St. Paul, MN: National Research Center for Career and Technical Education, University of Minnesota.