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CTE Policy Watch

Academic and CTE Participation Merging for Many Students


March 28, 2013

By: Catherine

From Track to Field: Trends in Career and Technical Education Across Three Decades tells the story of the growing convergence of CTE and academics.

Researchers from RTI International and MPR Associates analyzed the graduating high school classes of 1982, 1992 and 2004 and compared their coursetaking patterns, achievement and outcomes.

The study finds that CTE is not a vocational track for students unequipped for college but is rather "an exploratory program for an increasing proportion of both academic and general curriculum graduates." This is supported by data on increased academic coursetaking, improved achievement in math and increased involvement in postsecondary education for CTE students.  

While the report is chock-full of interesting information, here are key findings. Keep in mind that the paper differentiates between three types of CTE courses: occupation-specific courses, general labor market preparation courses and Family and Consumer Sciences courses.

  • Credits earned in CTE courses declined between 1982 and 1992, but no difference was observed between 1992 and 2004. A rise in academic credits was associated with decreases in CTE credits, but academic coursetaking did not have as strong a negative impact on CTE coursetaking in 2004 as it did in the past.
  • The percentage of students taking CTE at low levels and of students spreading their CTE credits across multiple occupational fields increased, while the percentage taking a higher concentration in one occupational area declined.
  • Students pursuing more occupation-specific courses have improved their math scores and increased their participation in the highest levels of math and science courses, although they still participate at lower rates than students taking less than 3 CTE credits.
  • Most occupational concentrators expect to achieve some college or a bachelor degree.
  • Accounting 1 was the most common occupation-specific course in 1982 and 1992. In 2004, computer applications was the most common occupation-specific course.
  • The CTE participation of students taking more academically intensive courses and those pursuing a "general education" path has converged.

The report makes it clear that distinctions drawn between academically-focused students and CTE-focused students are increasingly false distinctions. Considering the strides that have been made since 2004 in public recognition of the need for both college and career readiness, we can expect this convergence to continue!

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