Unlike old-fashioned vocational education, high school-level career and technical education doesn’t really prepare people for jobs directly after high school. While the stated end goal of K-12 education in America is for students to be “college and career ready,” the reality is the existence of career-ready high school graduates is a myth. The expectation that high school produces career-ready adults in a 21st century economy is unrealistic and counterproductive.
While there have been efforts to revive vocational training in high school, it has become clear that, for today’s students to be prepared for tomorrow’s jobs, all pathways must lead to a credential with labor market value, such as a certificate, associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree. Good jobs that only required a high school education, in blue-collar fields and the military, have declined, while the jobs that took their place in fields like health care, information technology and business services require more than a high school education.
On average, CTE courses comprise only 2.5 out of the 27 credits high school students earn, not nearly enough coursework to prepare students for an entry-level job with a career ladder. What’s more: CTE “concentrators” – that is, students who take at least three CTE courses – and who don’t go on to obtain a college degree, certificate or certification earn 90 cents more per hour than nonconcentrators.