In August, when the teachers come back and the heat is at its peak in Texas, during professional development or training camp as I like to call it (if it was in March, I would call it Spring Training), I remind our teachers what I believe we are at school for. This year I began my 10th year as an administrator at the high school-level and in my 20th year in secondary education; and each year it has become more and more clear to me what our primary purpose is: When students graduate from our campus, they must be prepared with the tools to they need for college, begin a career, or have the option to do both. We want them to leave with options.

Not every graduate has the desire, the financial means, or the talents needed for a traditional four-year college. I have had the pleasure of working as an administrator in an urban high school for five years, and I am now in my fifth year at a rural high school…not all students are college students. One student, for example, left the rural school with a certification in welding, was hired, and was making about $70,000 a year. Not a bad way to start life after college. And he was not the only story like that.

Why are Alternatives to College Attractive to Some Students?

The answer to the question above is best answered in some examples of students from the urban school I worked in (there are economically disadvantaged students in all schools, but some have more than others). Many students at the urban school had many parents that were working two or three jobs and were just finding a way to keep clothes on their kids and food on the table, literally. Some students saw leaving high school with a certification from a CTE career path as a way they could start making a good living immediately. From there they could not only help their family with a good paying job, but also have some economic security for themselves and future family.

So, the first answer to the question above is economics. Yes, college could propel them into higher levels of management in these jobs, but there was security on the horizon they were not used to that these CTE jobs could provide.

In both settings, there were also students who just were not interested in the time and financial investment that a four-year college would require. For those students, they could go to a two-year college or a technical college and begin the career that they were interested in. They were able to further their education, but also move into the career of their choice in a decent amount of time, without spending too much money.

Then, there is another prominent group that somewhat plays into the other two we have discussed, those that have never seen a person graduate from college. For them, they don’t know anything different and were not convinced that college could provide them and their family a great opportunity (and due to their economic situation might be totally paid for), a career from a CTE certification provides the economic security mentioned above.

One more segment of students who might not opt for college is our brave military recruits. Yes, all armed service branches will pay for some sort of college after your service is done, but they also have training that recruits can get jobs without college when your service time is complete.

Lastly, there were students that college was just not interesting to them. They had completed 13 years of required education, and now they wanted a job. CTE provided them job preparation in a field that interested them.

What is Career and Technical Education?

I am biased somewhat from living and working in Texas public schools (but what true Texan is not somewhat biased to Texas?). Our state, along with many others, provide many different Career and Technical Education courses for our students. Thus the Texas Education Agency defines career and technical education as “a sequence of courses that provides students with coherent and rigorous content. CTE content is aligned with challenging academic standards and relevant technical knowledge and skills needed to prepare for further education and careers in current or emerging professions.” 

Texas offers 120 different CTE areas that fall into 16 different career clusters. Granted, the size and resources of a district will dictate how many of these can and will be offered. I serve in a school with about 650 students, and we offer certifications in a medical strand, technology strand, agriculture manufacturing strand, and marketing strands.

The bottom line is with career and technical education a student can leave high school with real world certifications so that the student is prepared to work in the real world after college.

What Career Paths does CTE Prepare Students For?

For time and efficiency’s sake, I will use some of the Texas career clusters as an example of what pathways CTE can prepare a student for. Next to each of the career clusters below are examples of job students can get from these career clusters.

  • Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources — Landscape Irrigation Technician, Licensed Veterinary Tech
  • Architecture and Construction — OSHA Construction, Electrician, Plumber
  • Arts, Audio/Video Technology and Communications — Adobe Certifications, Apple Certifications
  • Business Management and Administration — Intuit QuickBooks, Real Estate Sales
  • Education and Training — Child Development Associate, Education Aide
  • Health Science — Medical Assistant, Pharmacy Tech
  • Hospitality and Tourism — Certified Pastry Cook, Certified Hospitality and Tourism Management Professional
  • Human Services — Barber, Cosmetology
  • Information Technology — C++ Certification, Cisco Network Certification
  • Law, Public Safety, Corrections, and Security — Emergency Medical Technician Basic, Emergency Dispatcher
  • Manufacturing — Welding, Auto Technician

As you would expect, there were many more on this list. In the end, it is about equipping our students with options. It is not reasonable for all 18-year-olds to know exactly what they will want for their career…or their second career or third career. We need to be able to equip students for these options they may want to explore in their lives.

Businesses need our students to be trained and prepared for the workforce more than ever. Our students who opt for this route get to leave school with good paying jobs and the tools they need to impact their community immediately.