George Lucas Educational Foundation

Merging Career and Technical Education with College Prep

Merging Career and Technical Education with College Prep

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David Stern, emeritus professor of education at the University of California, Berkeley, is a leading researcher on career and technical ed. Here's a statement from one of his papers: "In recent decades, traditional forms of vocational education have gradually given way to what is now called career-technical education (CTE), a broader notion of preparation for economic self-sufficiency that includes readiness for postsecondary education as well as for entering the workforce directly." The report is titled "Expanding Policy Options for Educating Teenagers" We'd like to invite conversation about this particular area of CTE in this thread. Join the discussion!

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Rae Wilson's picture

I am a teacher today. I have been a paramedic, a Wellness Program Director, an Athletic Trainer and several fun jobs while in college. I am 49 years young and I am still learning. My brother is a diesel mechanic. He owns his own shop, he lives in an affluent neighborhood and has every toy known to man. His trade, his skill got him there. I am very proud of him and I use him as a role model to my students. We are both successful even though we chose different paths. It is my wish for students to feel proud of their accomplishments and struggles wether they follow the path of academics or trade skills.

Frank Burtnett's picture
Frank Burtnett
Author of the Bound-For-Career Guidebook

College and career readiness are inseparable. They fit together, are interchangeable and can be mixed and matched to one's personal satisfaction. Every student in the U.S. can expect to find herself or himself on a college campus at some point in their education or career future. Many will go there directly from high school and work toward a baccalaureate or graduate degree. Many will matriculate after a military, workplace or related "gap" experience. Still others will enter, exit and enter again as members of the "zoomer" generation---those resuming (rezooming) their education. Finally, a signficant portion will go to college as directed by their employer or personal desires to become more competitive and competent in their workplace knowledge and skills. It isn't about if you go to college---it's about when and how often you will go to college.

Frank Burtnett is the President of Education Now ( and author of the Bound-For-Career Guidebook (2010) and Bound-For-College Guidebook (2009) from Rowman & Littlefield Education.
Contact Dr. Burtnett at

David Coccia's picture

I too believe that college and career education are inseperable. Not everyone should be a college grad but everyone should or will take some advanced training. Even in the trades, people will realize that technology is advancing and the tools required to keep up in todays marketplace will require additional training of some sort. Although I live a life of the so called white collar worker I am a blue collar person at heart, I love manual work and respect those who choose to make it their life

Jim Brodie Brazell's picture
Jim Brodie Brazell
Radical Platypus

As the U.S. turns its attention to STEM education and education reform in general, transdisciplinary programs that unify CTE, academics and arts are gaining ground as a method of increasing student retention, graduation, performance, and readiness for college. In effect, the definition of a well-rounded student is evolving from a liberal arts education to an integrated education including CTE. Rather than focusing on academics for college-bound students or vocational education for work-bound students, these programs transcend traditional silos and tracking by merging academic and vocational curricula and college pathways.

Transdisciplinary Education Movement

Transdisciplinary education is practiced in pockets throughout the United States and the world. These initiatives are guided by the following criteria: (1) STEM proficiency, and particularly technology proficiency, is now fundamental to every academic discipline, job, and aspect of civil life; (2) CTE is for every student and fundamental to student motivation and performance; (3) expanding educational equity and equality is a function of unifying hands-on learning, academic rigor, and creativity using real-world tools, roles, and contexts; and (4) the well-rounded student is ready for college, life, and career rather than a single track to work and community college or university.

The expansion of CTE is both ironic and profound. CTE expansion is ironic because it calls for unification of academic and vocational worlds in the shadow of nearly a century of tradition that drew sharp distinctions between academic and career preparation. Today, the increasing multi-skill and technologically complex nature of work, the aging and ongoing retirement of the "boomer" workforce, and the fact that 80% of today's workers have the "equivalency" of two years of postsecondary have driven these two worlds to a point of convergence.

The CTE movement is profound, because for at least a century, learning-by-doing was associated with the lowest order of intelligence, education, and work. Today, the news from brain research and neuroscience is that humans learn by doing. Integrated CTE, academics, and the arts are emerging as the next evolution of school reform at the same time that the world of science validates methods that are the cornerstone of vocational practice from andragogy to project-based learning.

Powerful voices are using the rhetoric of "career pathways," "dual concentrators," "programs of study," "career clusters," and "academic-CTE integration." These voices range from the President of the United States in his most recent State of the Union Address to key executive educational leaders across the nation and the world. The transdisciplinary movement unifying academics, arts, and CTE will deeply influence students, education markets, classroom learning, and schools.

Jim Brodie Brazell's picture
Jim Brodie Brazell
Radical Platypus

Free Online Report - Sustainable Economic Opportunity Through One- and Two-Year Credentials, February 4, 2010, By Jennifer Wheary Viany Orozco

Advocates, educators and students often make the assumption that more education is always better, that a bachelors or graduate degree is always superior in terms of providing additional economic opportunity. As the following report show, this is not always the case.

Eight years after graduating from high school, 43 percent of certificate holders earn a median annual salary that is higher than that earned by someone holding an associates degree. Twenty-seven percent earn more than someone holding a bachelors degree. In a similar vein, 31 percent of associates degree holders earn more than someone holding a bachelors degree.

In particular, one- and two-year credentials in engineering and in health care can deliver higher salaries than bachelors degrees in other fields.
Those holding engineering certificates earn an average annual salary of nearly $47,000, a figure higher than the average annual salary of associates degree holders in the areas of liberal arts, the social and natural sciences and education. Health care certificate holders can earn a median salary of about $46,000.

The salaries of engineering and health care certificate holders are relatively close to what bachelors degree holders in the social or natural sciences might earn...

Jim Brodie Brazell's picture
Jim Brodie Brazell
Radical Platypus

The NRCCTE has undertaken three scientifically based research studies in an effort to determine whether the integration of career and technical education (CTE) courses with academic content can increase student achievement.

These include the Math-in-CTE study, completed in 2005 (also known as Building Academic Skills in Context; Stone, Alfeld, Pearson, Lewis, & Jensen, 2006); the Authentic Literacy Applications in CTE pilot study, completed in 2009, with a full year study launched in 2010; and the Science-in-CTE pilot study, launched in 2010.

Jim Brodie Brazell's picture
Jim Brodie Brazell
Radical Platypus


* The 2004 National Assessment of Vocational Education (NAVE) Final Report found that occupational concentrators increased their 12th-grade test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) by about 8 scale points in reading and 11 points in math, while students who took little or no career and technical education coursework increased their reading on NAEP by only 4 points and showed no improvement in math achievement.

* Students at schools with highly integrated rigorous academic and CTE programs have significantly higher student achievement in reading, mathematics and science than do students at schools with less integrated programs, as reported by the Southern Regional Education Board.

* A ratio of 1 CTE class for every 2 academic classes was shown to minimize the risk of students dropping out in a 2005 National Research Center for Career and Technical Education (NRCCTE) report.

* The number of students enrolled in CTE programs has risen 157% from 1999 to 2004 according to an Office of Vocational and Adult Education report.

Janet A Canning's picture
Janet A Canning
Cyber High and Online Learning Instructor, Fort Bragg CA

Hello, I am so glad to have found some like minded people. I live and work in a poor rural area that has lost much of it's work availability, before the economic downturn. About 1/2 to 2/3 of the students here would go directly into the workforce, but I spend a lot of time trying to convince them to even try Community College. Do you think creating the mindset of going to college or tradeschool starting in 7th and 8th grade is do-able? We have the AVID program, but that is geared for the University Bound, which maybe 25% of our students will try. The rest really need more of a Poly Tech direction maybe.

Middle School Principal

Even before I took a position in a CTE school, I believed that it was important to teach career readiness to students. Of course, we would all want our children to be college educated and get jobs in their chosen degree field. There are several problems with this notion.

1 - As much as we try to ignore the fact, not everyone is college-bound. There are some students who just do not function well in a classroom and are better working with their hands. Yes, online courses will help solve this problem, but you still must meet students where they are, which leads me to...

2 - Not all students are going to be a level 3 or 4 in ELA and/or Math (as measured by NCLB standards), but they are a level 3 or 4 at something. This is what we need to discover. If they are great at electrical work or plumbing or carpentry, sobeit. These are honorable skills that are very much needed. When all the DIYers invariably do something wrong, who is the first person they call? The experts and often have to pay even more for screwing things up in the first place.

3 - Even those students who went on to college to obtain a degree in some field need some kind of career preparation. How many students graduate with degrees only to find either there are no jobs in their degree field or they are not qualified because they do not have any relevant work experience or don't know how to write a resume and perform in an interview? Career prep will help in these areas.

4 - In order to compete in this new global economy, students will need to not only be computer literate, but they will need to know how to collaborate and communicate with others. There are important "21st Century Skills" that students need to know that they may not get in a traditional classroom environment. CTE programs provide the opportunities to work collaboratively, develop and pursue ideas, and explore alternative ways of thinking. Students are not and cannot be limited to just one way of learning.

There was a quote that I often use when defending CTE programs: "There are three people in the world that you need to put your utmost faith and trust in - your doctor, your accountant, and your mechanic." You literally place your life into the hands of these professionals. Not only is there nothing wrong with blue-collar work, it is a necessity in any society. Having a skill set or even a multitude of skill sets, will set you apart from the masses and keep you in demand. We constantly tell young athletes and entertainers that they need something to fall back on just in case their primary goal does not work out. It is time we do the same for all of our students.

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