Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Wednesday Issue: Career and Technical Education (Part I)

When we talk about educational options, oftentimes, traditional models come to mind: charter schools, homeschooling, private schools, etc. One educational option frequently ignored, however, is career and technical education (CTE), formerly referred to as vocational/technical education. Considering the needs and values of the Latino community, CTE proves to be a very important educational option for Hispanics. Today’s analysis will take a very quick look at the positive opportunities that CTE offers to the Latino community. Tomorrow, we’ll take a more critical look at these programs and consider their flaws.

Before any real analysis can begin, however, one must understand the full breadth of the term “Career and Technical Education.” CTE is no longer just the auto mechanics class that meets in the back of the school; numerous pedagogical and institutional models fall under the category of CTE. One example is dual enrollment programs, where high school students attend college classes (and receive credit for them) while pursuing their high school diplomas. Another example is Tech Prep programs, which generally begin in the ninth grade and provide students with technical training to pursue a career in engineering, mechanics, agriculture, or a number of other fields. Students often graduate these programs with an Associate’s degree or a professional certificate in their field. Many other models exist for CTE, but all share one main purpose: prepare students to pursue higher education and a specific career field.

Although each CTE model is unique (and thus, has its own positive and negative quirks), CTE programs benefit Latino students in similar ways. Firstly, most of these programs allow students to receive college credit for the classes that they are taking. While this is an obvious “plus” for any child, it is especially helpful for Latinos whose families may struggle financially and are unable to pay college tuition. Research from the organization Excelencia in Education reveals that Latino students are much more likely than other undergraduates to be from a low-income family. Earning college credits in a CTE program can allow Latino students to “speed up” their university careers, reducing their financial obligations and making it more likely that they will graduate from college.

In addition to helping Latinos get an educational and financial “head start” on college, many of these programs equip students with marketable skills that can help them during their undergraduate careers and beyond. For example, many programs train students to work as auto mechanics. Being able to work as an auto mechanic during an undergraduate career is surely a much lucrative option than say, working at McDonald's (or the school's dining hall, like I did).

Thirdly, while I would love to see every Latino child in America (in fact, every child in America) graduate from college with a 4-year degree, that is not the wish or destiny of every student. Some students cannot or do not want to attain a bachelor’s; for these, CTE provides major opportunities. According to the Census Bureau’s most recent analysis, the average full-time worker with an Associate’s degree will earn $1.6 million over the course of his/her working life. In contrast, the average full-time worker with only a high school diploma earns a mere $1.2 million. That’s some difference. By providing students with an easy opportunity to attain an Associate’s degree or professional certificate (which also has extra earning power), CTE programs ensure a better future for that student – a future which holds not only increased earning power, but also increased employment options.

Finally, I must examine CTE from a former teacher’s perspective. Another reason why I support CTE is that students actually like it. The practical approach of these programs provides concrete goals for students to work towards and keeps them invested in their education. When I was teaching in DC, our high school had an extremely popular culinary program. This program funneled students into post-secondary culinary schools, but aside from giving them that opportunity, it kept them interested in their high school work. Needless to say, that is no small feat. Being able to engage students who have been historically alienated by our school system is one major benefit of CTE programs and, in my opinion, all the more reason to support them.

Of course, CTE programs are not perfect. Although they offer many excellent opportunities to Latino students, there are also aspects of CTE which must be criticized. Tune in tomorrow to hear more about the challenges of CTE programs.

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