What Is Career and Technical Education, Anyway?

EDUCATION WEEK | Career and technical education has risen on the educational radar in the past decade, transforming itself from a college alternative into a new kind of college pathway.

What is the definition of career and technical education?

Career and technical education–commonly known as career-tech ed or CTE–describes classes that are designed to prepare students for work.

How is career and technical education different from vocational education?

In some ways, it’s not that different. In many high schools, you can still find the same voc-ed classes that existed half a century ago. They prepare students for jobs that don’t typically require college degrees, such as child care, welding, cosmetology, or plumbing.

But in important ways, CTE is very different than your grandfather’s voc ed. Many programs now focus on areas typically associated with associate or bachelor’s degrees, such as engineering or business. Because career-tech-ed classes of all kinds are increasingly seen as roads to additional study after high school, they are meant to be more academically rigorous than those of a previous generation.

How many students are really opting for career technical education programs?

A lot. About 8.3 million high school students—nearly half the U.S. high school population—were enrolled in one or more CTE courses in 2016-17, according to the most recent data collected for the just-reauthorized Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, the main federal law that provides funding for CTE programs. That’s up from 7.6 million in 2007-08.

Nearly half of the students in CTE classes are CTE “concentrators,” which typically means that they take two or more related courses in a particular career area.