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Career and technical education (CTE) programs may be the way to boost high school graduation rates and put students on a college and career pathway, according to panelists at an American Youth Policy Forum discussion this week.
Securing a living-wage job is becoming harder for workers with high school diplomas or less—particularly for women in that category. College is the best path to employment and middle-class earnings, but higher degrees won’t always lead to higher-paying jobs, according to panelist Anthony Carnevale, research professor and director of the Georgetown University Center of Education and the Workforce (CEW).
“It’s not so much the educational level as what you take and how that leads to a job,” Carnevale said.
The discussion coincided with the release of CEW’s report Career Clusters: Forecasting Demand for High School Through College Jobs. The study predicts job opportunities and skill requirements within 16 CTE clusters, including manufacturing, architecture and construction, and hospitality and tourism.
The study shows that for those with high school diplomas, decent jobs still exist but there are not enough to go around. Only one in three of high school-level jobs will pay wages of $35,000 or more.
Linking industry, education
Connecting curriculum to industry needs is a “critical component” of preparing students for the changing workforce, and CTE programs are playing a big role in that. In Maryland, more than 117,300 high school students and 67,800 community college students are enrolled in CTE programs.
The programs allow high school and college students to receive industry certifications, said panelist Katharine Oliver, assistant state superintendent of career and college readiness in Maryland. That can lead students to jobs in manufacturing, health and biosciences, and information technology, among other fields.
At Gateway Technical College (GTC) in Wisconsin, aligning curriculum to industry needs is leading to more career opportunities for students. But that hasn’t always been the case.
“We have lots of world-class companies, but there was a disconnect between the opportunities and what was being taught,” said GTC President Bryan Albrecht.
Albrecht spoke about initiatives at GTC that leverage community resources. They include a manufacturing-based high school where students leave with at least 26 college credits, and the SC Johnson Corporate College, where an associate degree is offered within the walls of the company. GTC is also finding success with its Health and Emergency Response Occupations (HERO) Center to train new and incumbent workers for emergency-response careers.
Disparities continue for women
The panel also discussed the disparity between genders in jobs that require only a high school diploma or less. Many of those opportunities are in male-dominated fields, making it more important for women to get a postsecondary education.
“Women can’t really make it with a high school degree,” Carnevale said.
According to the American Association of Community Colleges, women comprise nearly 60 percent of two-year college students.
CTE programs are helping women and girls become more engaged in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.
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