College-Bound or Not, Students Gain Valuable Skills from CTE Courses

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Image of a student wearing a white shirt working on her laptop while taking online career classes at Connections Academy.

A renewed respect for technical education presents a world of opportunities for students who want to pursue something outside of a degree at a traditional, four-year college. Such an education can help build vocational and life skills for high schoolers so that they are ready to take on the workforce after they graduate. Yet, even students who are planning on earning advanced degrees at a university can benefit from taking technical courses and obtaining valuable job skills and certifications while still in high school.   

What Is Career and Technical Education (CTE)?

Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses, which are available at many online schools and brick-and-mortar schools, help students to develop specific and valuable job skills they need for careers in fields that include information sciences, engineering, health sciences, technology, repair, and manufacturing. Most of these jobs do not require a bachelor’s degree and are an attractive option for students who want to join the workforce shortly after graduating from high school. 

A student in a white shirt taking her CTE online.

Are CTE Courses for College-Bound Students?

CTE courses are also advantageous for college-bound students because they give students a chance to think not only theoretically about a profession like electrical engineering, but also to dive in and get hands-on experience with electricity and currents. Additionally, CTE courses often receive input from experts within each field, so the courses are influenced by real-world experience, expectations, and realities, and can show 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®.   

Further, students who take CTE courses have a high school graduation rate of about 90 percent, which is 15 percentage points higher than the national average. The Association for Career & Technical Education asserts that taking one CTE course for every two academic classes may reduce “the risk of students dropping out of high school” and that approximately 91 percent of students who earn two to three CTE credits while in high school also enroll in college. This may be because students who enroll in CTE courses learn valuable job skills and receive a sense of direction regarding their aptitudes and career choices. 

What Are CTE Areas of Study?

At the national level, CTE is broken down into16 areas of study called “career clusters.” They are: 

  • 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 to help students further narrow their interests and design an educational plan that meets their academic and career goals.  

For instance, the health sciences cluster is divided into the following possible pathways:  

  • Biotechnology research and development  
  • Diagnostic services 
  • Health informatics  
  • Support services 
  • Therapeutic services 
Two students in blue uniforms conversing together about a Health Science CTE course they are taking through Connections Academy.

Why Is CTE Important?

CTE courses allow students to use tools of the trade, learn how to handle materials in their chosen industry, and practice the skills necessary to be successful in that career. These hands-on experiences thus enable students to try out jobs and obtain credentials that will help them to excel in their field, which shows why career and technical education is important.  

Can You Take CTE Courses Online?

Online public schools like Connections Academy offer 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, which is an online private school available worldwide.   

Further, students can explore Connections Academy’s internship program. In this program, local school-level staff collaborate with businesses and organizations. Together, professional mentors work closely with students to coordinate opportunities for students to gain real-world, hands-on experience and valuable job skills while also earning course credits.   

“Career and Technical Education is definitely undergoing a reinvention,” says Kate Fuchs who is the product manager for Pearson Online & Blended Learning, which is the parent company of Connections Academy. “It used to be known as vocational training and had a connotation as being for students who were not college-bound. 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 get a sense of a profession can help students—college-bound or otherwise—discover disciplines they love.    

Whether a student is hoping to work shortly after high school or wants to pursue extra life skills before earning a college degree, the hands-on experience gained from CTE courses provide a solid foundation for them to pursue their passions and obtain valuable job skills for the future. 

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