College-Bound or Not, Students Gain Valuable Job Skills from Technical Education Courses

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A renewed respect for technical education presents a world of opportunities for students who don’t want to pursue a degree at a traditional four-year college. And even students who are planning on earning advanced degrees can benefit from technical courses.

Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses, which are available at online schools and at traditional bricks-and-mortar schools, help students start to develop the specific skills they need for jobs in fields that include information sciences, engineering, health sciences, repair, and manufacturing. Most of these jobs, once thought of as the “vo-tech” track, do not require a bachelor’s degree and are an attractive option for students who want to join the workforce soon after graduating from high school.

But CTE courses are also advantageous for students who desire a college degree. That’s because these classes give students a chance not only to think just theoretically about, say, electrical engineering, but also to dive in and get hands-on experience with electricity and currents. This opportunity creates a deeper understanding of the topic and also signals to college admissions officers that the student is passionate about the field.

“Colleges look at CTE courses as great experience because they show inquisitiveness and signal that the student wants to be a lifelong learner,” says Penny Reeves, manager of college and career programs at Connections Academy.

What’s more, students who take CTE courses have higher graduation rates than their peers who don’t take such classes. The graduation rate for those in CTE concentrations is about 90 percent, which is 15 percentage points higher than the national average.

At the federal level, CTE is broken down into 16 areas of study called “career clusters”:

• Agriculture, food, and natural resources
• Architecture and construction
• Arts, audiovisual technology, and communications
• Business management and administration
• Education and training
• Finance
• Government and public administration
• Health science
• Hospitality and tourism
• Human services
• Information technology
• Law, public safety, corrections, and security
• Manufacturing
• Marketing
• Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics
• Transportation, distribution, and logistics

The career clusters are then broken down into more specific pathways. For instance, the health sciences cluster is further divided into the following pathways: biotechnology research and development; diagnostic services; health informatics; support services; and therapeutic services.

Earning a Living

A four-year degree, while attractive to many students, is not the only path to financial security. Many CTE-focused fields pay good salaries right out of high school or with just a year or two of training. For example, jobs in the transportation, communications, and utilities sector that do not require a bachelor’s degree have a median annual salary of $60,000, according to a report by Georgetown University.

Likewise, non-BA jobs in management, business, and financial operations have a median salary of $63,000, while the median salary in the construction field is $59,000.

Connections Academy has an array of CTE courses from which to choose. Individual Connections Academy®–supported schools select the CTE courses they offer based on state or local guidelines. CTE courses are also offered through Pearson Online Academy , an online private school available worldwide.

Programs of study are organized by career clusters, which branch into career pathways to help students narrow their interests further and design an education plan that meets their educational and career goals.

In addition to CTE courses offered at many Connections Academy schools across the country, the Indiana Connections Career Academy (INCC) specializes in a CTE-focused curriculum. Students can explore and prepare for careers in finance, marketing, psychology, criminal justice, and more. By the end of the course series, students will have developed knowledge, skills, and competencies in their chosen field.

But how can a student get hands-on experience through an online school?

That’s where Connections Academy’s internship program comes in. Local school-level staff are plugged in to local businesses and organizations, and they work closely with students to coordinate opportunities for students to gain real-world hands-on experience while also earning course credit.

“Career and Technical Education is definitely undergoing a reinvention. It used to be known as vocational training and had a connotation as being for students who were not college-bound,” says Kate Fuchs, product manager for Pearson Online & Blended Learning, parent company of Connections Academy. “The new iteration of CTE is much more focused on the skills students need to be more productive members of society after high school or college.”

Having the opportunity to really get a sense of a profession is helpful not just because students can discover disciplines they love, but also because students sometimes realize that a career they thought would be rewarding is, in fact, not something they want to pursue.

“Whether they love it or hate it,” Kate says, “it’s still a win.”

After High School

Students who are contemplating advanced training in CTE after high school have several options. They can get a job with a company that provides training to its employees, they can attend community college, or they can enroll in a trade school.

Before students sign up for a program, Penny advises that they consider the following:

• Is the school accredited, and is its accreditation up to date?
• What are the graduation requirements?
• Will the school help you get an internship?
• Will your credits transfer to a different program?
• Will a certificate be provided upon completion?
• What are the completion rates? (Do a large percentage of students drop out?)
• How much tuition debt does the average graduate have?
• How robust is the career placement program? (Will they help you find a job after you have completed the program?)
• What are the job placement rates?
• Do you pay by the course, by the semester, or by the program?
• What fees do they charge in addition to tuition?
• Will they provide references of recent graduates?

“When students are looking at trade schools and vocational programs, they should check to see what alternative programs are available,” Penny says. “It may be cheaper to attend a community college than a vo-tech school. Or students might be able to find an apprenticeship through a business that will train them on the job.”

So whether a student is hoping to get to work soon after high school or wants to pursue a college degree, the hands-on experience gained from CTE courses provides a solid foundation.

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