A resurgence of interest in career and technical education has spurred much discussion on ways to ensure high school students gain the knowledge and skills they need to prepare them both for further education and training and for a professional career.
Last month, the first-ever Career and Technical Education/Workforce Development Summit, co-hosted by the AFT and the AFL-CIO, featured presentations on how to scale up and sustain programs that provide multiple pathways for student success. Former and current CTE students from Connecticut and Ohio shared the opportunities that technical education has opened up for them, while business owners affirmed the need to strengthen CTE programs. Conference speakers also included such prominent leaders as AFT President Randi Weingarten, Vice President Joe Biden and Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, underscoring the issue’s significance.
Within the AFT, CTE—commonly defined as the education that prepares students for careers in skilled trades, applied sciences and technology—is among the many high-priority items on the union’s agenda. The results of a survey of 570 K-12 CTE teachers reiterate the need for greater support of vocational education and are highlighted in a report, “The Voices of Career and Technical Education Teachers,” as well as in the Fall 2014 issue of American Educator, which examines policy proposals and model programs for re-envisioning CTE.
All this focus on CTE at the high school level, however, gives rise to an important question: Where does higher education fit in?
Community college is the main type of postsecondary institution that offers CTE, enabling students to expand their minds, hone their skills and improve their economic circumstances. Accordingly, this issue of AFT On Campus focuses on CTE’s community college connection.
An article by UCLA professor Mike Rose details the economic and intellectual benefits of one urban community college program and explains the class bias that has long been directed toward vocational education in general.
A pair of Q&As with community college professors shed light on the rewards and challenges of teaching in occupational programs. And this issue also includes an update on the AFT’s work to prevent for-profit career and technical programs from engaging in fraud and abuse by failing to prepare students for jobs and leaving them saddled with insurmountable debt.
In the timely and important conversations finally taking place on the benefits of a re-imagined CTE, we must remember the powerful role of community colleges. A variety of occupational and technical programs and a wealth of professional expertise are hallmarks of such institutions. Any meaningful discussion of CTE must include them.