Students Excel at Vocational, Technical High Schools

Despite budget cuts to Career and Technical Education, grads still land jobs and go to college.

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"Unfortunately, in our society, we've looked at it as if everyone needs to be a college grad—which we know is untrue," says Marsha Casey, who has been teaching social studies at Vinal Tech for seven years and is one of two State Vocational Federation of Teachers (SVFT) union representatives at her school. "I think we're going to see blue collar workers come back."

Casey's prediction may have some merit, as this view is supported by an October 2011 CBS report on CTE education. The report follows Nick Senniti, who became a certified welder through his vocational education at Lehigh Career and Technical Institute in Pennsylvania and was offered three jobs when he graduated in 2009. Senniti and many other career-bound CTE graduates are fulfilling the latter option of the mission Duncan mentioned: the "industry-recognized certification" instead of the "postsecondary credential."

Whether CTE students plan on taking their skills to college or becoming certified for a trade, their schools will have to push those goals while also absorbing a budget cut of about $137 million, as Duncan noted in his speech.

Schools supported under the Perkins Act, which helps technical education programs in order to boost their effect on the economy, "need to make a convincing case for funding," Duncan said. "That starts by demonstrating that you are improving student outcomes. And there's no better data than by identifying how many students are going to postsecondary education and starting careers in the pathway they studied."

[Explore postsecondary options through the Best Colleges rankings.]

There seem to be many "convincing cases" for CTE success stories. Katelyn Fitzsimmons, a senior at GNBVT in Massachusetts, says that, from a very young age, she's loved to help people learn. She will soon graduate with vocational training in early childhood education, and then plans to attend Bridgewater State University, where she hopes to double major in elementary education and political science. Bloomfield Tech graduate Rakiyah Wright is a few months into her first year at New Jersey Institute of Technology and is already starting to consider her next step as well.

"I have great aspirations, she says, "like going to med school or grad school to get my doctorate degree."

See U.S. News's coverage of Technology in the Classroom.