By David Horseman
Associate Commissioner, Office of Career and Technical Education and Student Transition
A lot of times I hear people referring to career and technical education (CTE) and college prep classes as two separate things. CTE classes prepare you for a career, the conversation usually goes, while college prep – like Advanced Placement – prepares you to succeed in college.
I don’t think that’s a fair comparison because when you get down to it, all education is designed to prepare a student for his or her future career. People don’t go to high school and college just to become a graduate. They get their education to prepare them for their future career, whether it’s being an electrician, an educator or like me in my first profession, an engineer.
When it comes down to it, all education is career and technical education.
Too often we – and I mean mostly adults here – think of CTE as a great offering for somebody else’s children. Those are the types of classes that students who may not be cut out for a 4-year degree take. That notion couldn’t be further from the truth.
Today’s students can explore a wide variety of future careers in CTE classes and gain real skills that can benefit them no matter what they end up doing professionally. We currently have 125 different career pathways in Kentucky at the secondary level. What we call career pathways are groups of four or more classes that focus on a specific career or industry. These pathways cover everything from information technology and nursing to welding and industrial maintenance.
Kentucky’s students, it seems, are getting the message that CTE classes are for everyone. A total of 68% of public high school students take a CTE class every year. And of those seniors who are taking a CTE class, 52% of them have taken three credits in one pathway and 32% of them complete a pathway – which means they take four classes in the same pathway.
And let’s go back to that idea that CTE classes are for students who don’t have the ability to go on to college.
Did you know that students who are pathway completers have a 99% high school graduation rate? They also are more likely to earn a degree from a college or university than non-CTE completers and if they go directly into the workforce after high school, are more likely to be employed and earn a higher salary than non-completers.
While students have gotten the idea that CTE is for everyone, I’m afraid that the message hasn’t been quite as successful with their families. When I am out and visiting schools, I often hear students saying that their parents didn’t support the idea of them taking a CTE class. If all of our public school parents understood that CTE classes lead to careers like teaching, engineering and even veterinary medicine, then I believe they would be more supportive of their students exploring many different career interests. Not to mention that these pathways provide many acceleration opportunities for further postsecondary education and training, which include the earning of industry-recognized certifications and credentials, registered apprenticeships, dual credit and Advanced Placement coursework, as well as articulated credit at many of the state’s public and private colleges and institutions.
High school is a time for students to explore their interests and find the path they wish to take after graduation. I think all of our public school students – and even Kentucky – will be better off once we recognize that CTE is for everyone and that all classes are career and technical education.