Expert opinion

'College and career' is the way of the future

by Kimberly Green

Poll results on CTE reiterate the need to focus on a future where all learners have access to programs and experiences that prepare them for their future.

Career-technical education is experiencing a renaissance, with parents, students and employers recognizing its value and promise. This isn’t just a change in perception but also reflects a significant shift in program quality. This shift was hard-earned by states and educators working to develop, innovate, and evolve their systems and programs to prepare learners for success in college and careers. As an advocate for CTE for 24 years, I recall many times when CTE was positioned as the option for “other” kids. And so, this recent recognition of CTE’s potential to help all learners find success is truly gratifying. Finally, we can shed the legacy of stereotypes and instead focus on a future where all learners have access to programs and experiences that prepare them for their future.

The PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools signals a continuation of American’s attitude shift towards CTE and career-focused education, with 82% of Americans supporting job or career skills classes and an even higher 86% wanting schools to offer certificate or licensing programs in their community.

Through Advance CTE’s recent research findings, we also know that students and parents of students enrolled in CTE are overwhelmingly happy with their high school experience compared to those not enrolled in CTE. In fact, 91% of parents said their CTE student is getting a leg up on their career (compared to 44% of parents of non-CTE students) and 82% of students are satisfied with their ability to learn real-world skills (compared to only 51% of non CTE students). It’s no wonder that Americans want more CTE in their schools. However, this interest comes with the caution that we not inadvertently pit academics against career- focused education.

It’s not either or

While the idea that “Americans support career skills classes even if that means students might spend less time in academic classes” is a promising sign that schools should consider offering more CTE programs of study, we should not, must not, force students to choose between academic and CTE coursework. CTE and academic classes should be complementary and integrated. Let’s compare this to the real-world of work. We don’t do math for one hour and then do computer applications the next hour. These skills are integrated and applied seamlessly in the workplace and that, too, is how we should view academic and CTE coursework in schools — collaborators not competitors.

We also know from the PDK poll that though Americans are more open to alternative career pathways after high school, which is exciting, most parents still expect their child to attend some college, whether it’s full time or a mix of part-time study and work. Only 7% expect their child to go directly into their career after high school. No matter the type, postsecondary education is still an aspiration for most American parents. So, perhaps it’s also time for us to abandon the “or” from college or career and accept that “and” is the way of the future — college and career, academic and technical education.

Quality above all

This interest in CTE has come about because of hard work and a fierce commitment to quality. As states and local leaders capitalize on this momentum and parent and student interests grows, we must affirm our unwavering commitment to the highest standards of excellence. We cannot sell students and their parents on a false promise and provide them with programs that do not set them up for a lifetime of future success.

We cannot sell students and their parents on a false promise and provide them with programs that do not set them up for a lifetime of future success.

The CTE programs of study that do this well provide multiple paths toward a successful future. For example, Bergen County Technical School’s Culinary Science/Culinology program seamlessly blends the science and technology of food production and preservation research with the culinary arts. One of the only programs of its type in the country, it not only provides learners with work-based learning at top industry facilities but also AP and college-credit courses. Even though Bergen County has had a culinary arts program for more than 20 years, it had to evolve over the past decade as its student profile shifted to those who were more interested in attending four-year college. Last year, nearly all participants earned both postsecondary credit and an industry-recognized credential, giving them options for their post-high school plans. You see — it is possible to have excellence and have a program that embraces the “and” of academic and technical, college and career!

We must continue on our path of dedication to quality while evolving our programs to meet the needs of today and future learners. Instead of siloing CTE or creating a false choice between academic and career-focused education, we should weave those things that make the best of CTE so successful — work-based learning, mastery of technical skills, opportunity to explore careers, connections with employers — into the entire education system. By doing so, we are helping more learners begin their pathway to success.

Kimberly Green

Kimberly Green is executive director of Advance CTE (, a nonprofit organization that represents state directors and state leaders responsible for secondary, postsecondary and adult career-technical education in all 50 states and U.S. territories. 

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