Career and Technical Education in Modern Day

(September 29, 2023)

The modern state of Career and Technical Education (CTE) is something that many people are unfamiliar with. You might think of old fashioned vocational education, also known as vo-tech, or classes like woodshop and auto mechanics. There are also a lot of preconceived notions about the types of students who participate in these programs – those students who “can’t handle” a traditional four year university, or who struggle with academics. CTE has grown and changed drastically in recent years, and stakeholders and advocates like AFC and some of our partners have done a lot of work to make CTE into a viable and equitable option for all students. There is still a lot of work to be done in this area – and we are doing it! – but let’s take a look at what CTE looks like right now.

Today, the different CTE programs of study that a student might pursue are divided into 16 career clusters:

  • Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources
  • Architecture & Construction
  • Arts, A/V Technology & Communications
  • Business Management & Administration
  • Education & Training
  • Finance
  • Government & Public Administration
  • Health Science
  • Hospitality & Tourism
  • Human Services
  • Information Technology
  • Law, Public Safety, Corrections & Security
  • Manufacturing
  • Marketing
  • Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics
  • Transportation, Distribution & Logistics

Within these clusters are 79 career pathways which include things like Health and Nursing Sciences, Building Construction, Early Childhood Education, Veterinary Sciences, Graphic Arts, and more.

A lot of the guidance for developing CTE systems in the modern day comes from The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (also known as Perkins V). This is the newest version of legislation that has been reauthorized several times since it was first introduced in 1984. Perkins V was signed into law in 2018. In order to receive funding for CTE through Perkins V, each state must submit a state plan that outlines many aspects of the state’s CTE system. In Pennsylvania, only 3% of total funding for CTE comes from federal Perkins V funding. Another 9% comes from state funding,and the vast majority of the funding for CTE education comes from home school districts.

In Pennsylvania, CTE is generally delivered to students at Career and Technical Centers (CTCs). These are regional educational centers that are focused specifically on CTE, separate from a student’s home school. Students who are CTE concentrators from many different schools and districts will attend the same CTC. There are four CTCs in Allegheny County: A.W. Beattie Career Center, Forbes Road Career and Technical Center, Steel Center for Career and Technical Education, and Parkway West Career and Technology Center. There are also two school districts in Allegheny County (McKeesport Area School District and Pittsburgh Public Schools) that have comprehensive high schools, where CTE education is delivered alongside normal classes in the students’ home school. To read more about Career and Technical Education in Allegheny County, check out our report.

Because of the fact that so much of the funding for a student to attend CTE comes from the local school districts, students’ access to CTE can be inequitable – a school district that struggles financially may have trouble paying for students to attend a CTC, and may have to put a cap on the number of students who can enroll in CTE. The inequity of Pennsylvania’s Basic Education Funding is currently being examined by the Basic Education Funding Commission. In addition to BEF, the Commission is expected to also discuss CTE funding. In fact, the October 11 hearing in Pittsburgh will be held at the CTE Center at Westinghouse High School in Pittsburgh Public Schools and is expected to hear testimony from CTE educators and experts.

Right now at AFC, we are doing research into ways to increase CTE enrollment among special populations – particularly youth experiencing homelessness, or who have been involved in the foster care and juvenile justice systems. Many of these students could particularly benefit from the career readiness and life skills training that are offered by CTE programs.

To learn more about CTE, check out this article from EducationWeek and our partners at the federal level – ACTE and Advance CTE. You can also take a look at our CTE reports as well as those from our partners at PA Partnerships for Children. And make sure to stay tuned for updates as we continue our CTE work!

Laura Condon, Allies for Children Project Coordinator