Inside the Classroom Outside the Classroom

The Value of CTE for the Students of Today and Tomorrow

One of my favorite parts of high school was having the opportunity to attend the career and technical education (CTE) institute my high school partnered with. With more than two dozen programs to choose from, I was enthused to enroll in the photography program for the two years I could. I began learning about the value of CTE on that first day of class when we toured the dark room. My best friend enrolled in early childhood education, and then switched over to cosmetology. I also knew students who completed culinary arts, fashion design, massage therapy, fire science, automotive technologies, and veterinary assistant programs at the institute.

While I didn’t end up pursuing a career in photography, the program still gave me exposure to so many different elements around that industry, including photojournalism. One of our big projects was to create our own magazines. We wrote and photographed every single aspect, including the cover, feature articles, and fake advertisements. That project still resonates with me 10 years later because it was my first exposure to editorial writing, and I loved it. Many of my photography classmates went on to pursue careers in that field—one has even shot for major companies in New York!—and numerous students I knew in other programs are also now working in those fields.

The Value of CTE for Today’s Students

In 2016, the Fordham Institute conducted a study on how CTE in high school affects student outcomes. The findings echo much of the previous research on the value of CTE: “Greater exposure to CTE is associated with better outcomes for students.” Specifically, students with greater exposure to CTE are more likely to graduate from high school, enroll in a two-year college, be employed, and earn higher wages.

Here are even more benefits in offering CTE to your students:

  • CTE courses provide opportunities to learn real-world skills, explore different careers and interests, earn college-level credits, and prepare for a competitive job market.
  • Students attending CTE high schools have demonstrated higher rates of on-time graduation and credit accumulation.
  • CTE students and their parents are more satisfied with their education experience as compared to those not involved with CTE.
  • Eighty percent of students taking a college preparatory academic curriculum with rigorous CTE met college and career readiness goals, compared to only 63 percent of students taking the same academic core who did not experience rigorous CTE.
  • Work-based learning helps students apply and extend classroom learning, gain motivation and understanding, and develop critical understanding of the work environment.
  • According to the National Research Center for CTE, students in CTE were significantly more likely than their non-CTE counterparts to report developing these types of skills during high school: problem solving, project completion, research, math, college application, work-related, communication, time management, and critical thinking.

Students are, of course, the most important beneficiaries when high-quality CTE opportunities are made available to them, but the value of CTE extends far beyond student benefits. Many state economies and taxpayers are already seeing the monetary benefits and overall value of CTE. And for businesses, having a larger number of skilled workers who are trained in specific fields makes it easier for employers to fill positions with highly qualified employees. Talent shortages make it increasingly challenging to meet client needs and demands.

Another great option is the time-tested apprenticeship program, which pairs on-the-job training with classroom instruction. While some companies in the US already use these programs, many are not familiar with the myriad of related benefits. In countries like Germany and Switzerland, apprenticeships are a key conduit for many young adults to enter the workforce better prepared. By investing in talent development through an apprenticeship program, employers gain a pipeline of skilled workers, which boosts retention and increases productivity.

According to the Brookings Institution, three million workers will be needed for the nation’s infrastructure in the next decade, including the designing, building, and operating of transportation, housing, utilities, and telecommunications. Jobs in healthcare, technology, and renewable energy are expected to grow as well, so it’s important to give students opportunities to explore these fast-growing fields.

Recent Movement for CTE Support

Toward the end of June, a bill that would overhaul federal support for CTE took a big step forward by winning approval from a key Senate subcommittee. This bill calls for an update to the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (also known as the Perkins Act). This proposed update would strengthen and expand CTE programs at a time when the US is facing a shortage of skilled workers to fill more than six million job openings. The bill was a bipartisan effort and passed the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee unanimously.

The president of the Alliance for Excellent Education says this bill will help support the efforts of states and districts across the nation who already strive to provide CTE opportunities “by placing a greater emphasis on the quality of students’ CTE experience and prioritizing work-based learning and dual enrollment.” He adds that this bill also “targets high-quality opportunities toward historically underserved students.”

This approval marks an important step toward the state and federal policy recommendations suggested in the Fordham Institute’s study.


  • Offer CTE courses that align to skills and industry-recognized credentials in high-growth industries, and encourage (or require) high school students to take them.
  • Systemize “CTE for all” by offering courses that are appealing, relevant, and available to all types of students at all types of schools.
  • Advise students taking multiple CTE courses to concentrate, rather than enrolling haphazardly, by taking a sequence of three or more CTE courses within a program of study that align to a specific career and industry.


  • Reauthorize the Perkins Act and increase federal support for high-quality, labor-market-aligned CTE.

At this point, the bill still needs to be approved by the rest of the Senate and voted on by both houses before it can be signed into law, but the Association for Career & Technical Education (ACTE) encourages you “to let your Senators know [now] that you want to see this much-needed increase in Perkins funding.” Resources for doing so are available through their CTE Action Center.

At the school or district level, adding CTE to your education options can help your students explore exciting careers and begin planning for the future. Sometimes, however, parents and students don’t fully understand the value of CTE, so ACTE has put together a number of fact and issue sheets you can use to help further explain the value of CTE for students, the community, state, and economy.

Through a shared commitment to quality, exploration, and preparedness, parents and educators alike can encourage students to enroll in high-quality CTE courses with hands-on projects. Offering CTE is a great way to start making a positive impact on the future of our students, the workforce, and the nation.


Advance CTE. (2017 April). The value and promise of career technical education: Results from a national survey of parents and students. Retrieved from

Alliance for Excellent Education. (2018, June 26). Statement from Gov. Bob Wise in support of senate bill to rewrite career and technical education act. Retrieved from

Association for Career and Technical Education. (2018 January). CTE today! Retrieved from

Association for Career and Technical Education. (2018 January). CTE works! Retrieved from

Coopes, M. (2018, June 29). Senate advances education funding bill. CTE Policy Watch. Retrieved from

Cuevas, E. (2018, June 27). Career and technical education overhaul advances in congress. Jobs for the Future. Retrieved from

Hyslop, A. (2016, April 11). Fordham Institute report highlights value of CTE. CTE Policy Watch. Retrieved from

Olinsky, B., & Steinberg, S. A. (2013, December 2). Training for success: A policy to expand apprenticeships in the United States. Center for American Progress. Retrieved from

Steinberg, S. A. & Schwartz, B. (2014, July 14). The bottom line: Apprenticeships are good for business. Center for American Progress. Retrieved from

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute. (2016, April 7). Career and technical education in high school: Does it improve student outcomes? Retrieved from

About the Author


Ashleigh Lutz

Ashleigh graduated from Arizona State University with a BA in Psychology and a minor in Women and Gender Studies. She spent over three years in higher education developing resources and helping students succeed in online courses. During her tenure at Edgenuity, Ashleigh was eager to support Where Learning Clicks and the team’s commitment to helping teachers and students meet important goals and explore their passions. In addition to writing, a few of Ashleigh’s favorite things include rock climbing, chocolate, and cats.