Career and technical education (CTE) is a potential strategy to address the widening skills gap in the American workplace. But enrollment in CTE programs and courses is stagnant over the past ten years, despite rising demand for skilled workers.

A recent report by Advance CTE, the membership organization for state CTE directors, gauges the public opinion of career and technical education by surveying students who are considering or already involved in a high school CTE program and their parents. The survey collected responses from several groups of parents and students: 971 adults, comprising 252 parents of CTE students (in grades nine through twelve) and 506 parents of prospective students (in grades six through eleven); and 776 students—252 current CTE students and 514 prospective students. Prospective parents and students are “those who expressed interest (somewhat to extremely interested) in CTE during screening.”

There are three particularly noteworthy findings, each consistent across race, ethnicity, income level, geographic location, and education level of both parents and students.

First, the report finds that current CTE students and parents are more satisfied with their educational experiences than prospective parents and students. Fifty-five percent of CTE students and parents are “very satisfied” with their experiences, compared to just 27 percent of prospective parents and students. Current parents and students were particularly satisfied with CTE’s opportunities of exploring different fields and careers, with 89 percent of parents and 82 percent of students expressing satisfaction with their opportunities, compared to just 48 and 51 percent of prospective parents and students, respectively.

The second noteworthy finding is that, although employment or continuing education remains a post-graduation goal for almost all parents and students, CTE programs are associated with more specific future plans. Seventy-six percent of CTE students have a specific career path in mind, compared to 62 percent of prospective CTE students

Third, and problematically, researchers found that the phrase “career and technical education” is unknown to families. Despite being coined decades ago, only 47 percent of prospective students and parents reported being familiar with the term. They were still, of course, interested when the report’s authors presented them with a description of the typical details of programs and coursework. But this gap suggests that CTE advocates ought to better educate the public about these opportunities.

A drawback of the survey is its omission of the opinions of parents and students who are not prospective or currently involved with CTE. As my colleague David Griffith pointed out, because kids and parents select into CTE, the interpretation of the survey could be limited in some places. “For example, kids or parents of kids who take CTE might have a better sense of their future careers to begin with (relative to prospective CTE students), so you can’t say that CTE provided them with this sense of direction,” he said. “At the very least, the survey does suggest that CTE is meeting many of its goals in the eyes of parents and students. So rightly or wrongly, the consumers are satisfied.”

Although CTE shows great promise for solving today’s workforce skills gap, advocates of the programs haven’t sufficiently informed the public of their availability or benefits. This ought to change.

SOURCE: “The Value and Promise of Career Technical Education: Results from a National Survey of Parents and Students,” Advance CTE (April 2017).

Anthony Nguyen was a communications and staff associate at the Fordham Institute, where he helped coordinate outreach and messaging to outside audiences and handles Fordham’s digital media presence. Anthony graduated from The George Washington University with a degree in political science and history, minoring in American studies.

Prior to joining Fordham, Anthony previously interned with the U.S. Chamber of…

View Full Bio