CTE Stigma: A Barrier to Advancing Access

If you ask a student or parent with direct Career and Technical Education (CTE) experience to describe CTE, you are likely to hear comments like:

  • “CTE helped me decide on my career path”
  • “I was surprised by the amount of leadership opportunities”
  • “I learned how my math classes applied to real life”
  • “I earned dual credit through the college I will be attending”
  • “The internship led to a job offer after graduation”

However, if you ask students and parents who may not have participated in CTE to describe it, you are still likely to hear comments like:

  • “It’s for kids who can’t get into college”
  • “That’s where the bad kids go”
  • “It’s BOCES. That’s a Special Ed program”
  • “Oh, you mean Voc Ed”

This discrepancy in the way in which CTE is perceived serves as a significant barrier to providing equitable access to CTE programming. When parents, school counselors or administrators hold on to these outdated stereotypes regarding who should participate in CTE it impacts how and with whom information about CTE programming/enrollment is shared, how districts select and/or prioritize students to enroll, the number of students that are enrolled and the budget amounts dedicated for CTE programs and services. Making decisions based on these stereotypes feeds the stigma that still surrounds CTE. As a result, students do not receive the opportunity to select CTE as part of their high school schedule or see CTE as a less than favorable educational option and choose not to attend.

Promotional campaigns, such as “CTE Strong”, are attempting to combat these negative perceptions with accurate depictions of CTE coursework, college and industry connections and data related to job opportunities. In addition, the NYS ESSA plan includes a College, Career, and Civic Readiness Index as a measure of school quality and student success. Within this rating scale, readiness measures such as receiving CTE Technical endorsement or earning industry recognized credentials receive the same weighting as a regents diploma with advanced distinction or high scores on AP/IB exams.  These are positive, pubic steps towards recognizing the value of CTE and working towards changing negative perceptions.

However, these efforts may not be enough. CTE needs accurate and positive public recognition/promotion in order to create the change in perception that is needed to ensure all students have the opportunity to make an educated decision about their high school course work and post-secondary plans.

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