Career and Technical Education (CTE)


In the past, academic skills and vocational skills have been seen as two separate entities. This viewpoint has changed as the economy has become global rather than national. Businesses want workers with lifelong learning skills. Workers will have multiple careers over their life span, so lifelong learning skills are vital. The traditional workplace is changing from centralized to decentralized control and needs workers who can think, make decisions, and learn new skills (Clark, 1999). Advancement is based on knowledge and skills, rather than seniority.

Schools and community colleges are moving from the old model of vocational education to the new model of school-to-work programs. The new model seeks to integrate academic and career-based skills and, thus, raise academic standards for all students. The new model includes formats such as tech prep, career academies, school registered apprenticeships, student internships, career-oriented high schools, and school-based enterprises (Schargel & Smink, 2001, p. 209). The School-to-Work (STW) Act of 1994 has had a major impact on career education in schools. Resources were available to fund initiatives that would help make the transition from school to work easier for young people. The goal of the Act was to improve student learning, keep students in school until they graduated, and to provide relevant experiences that integrate school-based and work-based learning. The Act provided the impetus for schools and the business community to collaborate in providing real world experiences.

Stone (2004) has identified several program techniques that keep students in school: career guidance, work-based learning, career pathways, and tech prep. Career guidance is an important element in keeping students in school. Bauer & Michael (1993) found that a guidance model using career interest inventories and job readiness training can increase at-risk student school engagement 35%. Work-based learning provides the opportunity to connect school with the real world. Examples of work-based learning are:

  • Cooperative education
  • School-based enterprises
  • Internships and apprenticeships
  • Job shadowing
  • Mentoring

Career pathways often take the form of Career Academies. These are often schools-within-schools that are focused around a specific career area. Coursework includes academic and vocational classes. Kemple and Snipes (2000) found that enrollment in a career academy significantly decreased the dropout rate of at-risk students. Tech prep is similar to career pathways, but it is directly connected to postsecondary education. Tech prep usually consists of the last two years of high school and two years of community college. Programs typically lead to an associate’s degree or licensure.

Career and Technical Education (CTE) Is Needed

Education is important to employees and employers. Workers without a high school diploma earn approximately $852,000 over a 40-year career. This is $672,000 less than those with an associate degree, and a bachelor’s degree can increase earning more than $1.9 million over a 40-year period (Dolin, 2001).

Expected Benefits

Schargel and Smink (2001, p. 212) have identified five potential benefits to at-risk students:

  • Enhancement of students’ motivation and academic achievement;
  • Increased personal and social competence related to work in general;
  • A broad understanding of an occupation or industry;
  • Career exploration and planning; and
  • Acquisition of knowledge or skills related to employment in particular occupations or more generic work competencies


Bauer, R., & Michael, R. (1993). They’re still in school: Results of an intervention program for at-risk high school students. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Atlanta.

Clark, D. (1999, April-May). What we have learned. NAIEC (National Association for Industry-Education Cooperation) Newsletter, 35, 1-2.

Dolin, E. (2001, December 19). Give yourself the gift of a degree. Employment Policy Foundation (EPF) News Release.

Kemple, J. J., & Snipes, J. C. (2000). Career academies: Impacts on students’ engagement and performance in high school. New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corp.

Plank, S. (2001). Career and Technical Education in the balance: An analysis of high school persistence, academic achievement, and postsecondary destinations. Saint Paul, MN: National Research Center for Career and Technical Education.

Schargel, F. P., & Smink, J. (2001). Strategies to Help Solve our School Dropout Problem. Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.

Stasz, C., & Stern, D. (1998, December). Work-based learning for students in high schools and community colleges. NCRVE (National Center for Research in Vocational Education) CenterPoint, 1.

Stone, J. R. (2004). Career and technical education: Increasing school engagement. In J. Smink, J. & F. P., Schargel. (Eds.), Helping Students Graduate: A Strategic Approach to Dropout Prevention (pp. 195-203.). Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.

Stone, J. R., & Aliaga. O. A. (2002). Career and Technical Education, career pathways, and work-based learning: Changes in participation 1997-1999. Saint Paul, MN: National Research Center for Career and Technical Education.