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CTE Education is Popular But Study Shows Downsides

Among the hottest topics among educators today is the development of so-called CTE programs for high school students. CTE stands for Career & Technical Education. This involves providing vocational-type classes that teach practical skills, such as mechanics, medical billing, plumbing, construction, computer electronics, landscape design, automotives and more.

The idea is to provide students with solid skills that relate directly to high paying, high demand jobs that will get them employed faster after high school. Last year, Congress passes a bill that provides additional funds to improve CTE programming for American schools.

It sounds like a good idea and CTE programming has almost universal support among both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. But recent studies show a downside. While students benefit significantly from CTE in the short term, large numbers of them are at a distinct disadvantage later in their careers. That’s because focusing too much on specific skills does not leave them with well-rounded educations. This makes them less-equipped to adapt when job market requirements change.

A major study published in the Journal of Human Resources looked at CTE graduates in the United States and compared them to similar students in 11 European countries. The strong conclusion was that CTE students get better paying jobs and outdo their peers early in their careers, but run into big problems as they reach their 40s.

Students with nontechnical skills – or with technical skills but also 4-year degrees – easily outpaced those who focused on narrow technical skill educational programs.

The Trump Administration recently did an end-run around Congress by cutting funding for CTE programs in the U.S., even though both President Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have praised the European model of CTE.

Even so, most U.S. educators agree that significant opportunities will emerge in CTE education in coming years.

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