Alaska, it’s time to recognize the increasing importance of CTE in preparing students for post-secondary education, training and the workplace. Our policies must match our priorities.
As the President of the Alaska Association for Career and Technical Education, I have the opportunity to work with school districts and post-secondary institutions across Alaska. Our board and members of our association are all united in the mission to ensure all Alaskan students have access to quality Career & Technical Education. While CTE, or vocational education as it was once known, has been a part of the American Education system for well over a hundred years; the outcomes of CTE programs have changed significantly in those 100+ years. Gone are the vocational programs that isolated advanced academics as a separate track. Gone are the vocational programs that only focused on low skill, entry level careers or homemaking. Today, CTE programs in Alaska prepare students for highly technical careers in oil & gas production, mining, maritime, healthcare, aviation, telecommunications, and much more. CTE programs today are preparing the next generation of engineers, dental assistants, data analysts, GIS technicians educators and phlebotomists. What these careers have in common is the opportunity to begin a pathway of study in high school and the need to continue onto post-secondary education or training.
In Alaska CTE programs provide some of the only career exploration opportunities for students, which is critical to helping them understand how their skills, interests and aspirations align with the workforce needs. Without CTE, many students will make college choices based on little to no experiential factors. While this can work for some, most will not make informed post-secondary education and training decisions which can lead to large amounts of debt, dissatisfaction and dropout. What we know is that students who concentrate in a CTE pathway graduate at a higher rate than their peers. In Alaska, CTE concentrators have a graduation rate of 95%. CTE students are bright, driven, and skilled. Many CTE students are already earning college credit before they even leave high school. Another important statistic I want to share is that 41% of Alaska’s CTE students are economically disadvantaged, a trend that has been on the rise for 5 years. So, we have to ask why CTE isn’t recognized as an important component of post-secondary readiness.
As our nation and state begin to recognize the critical role that CTE plays in closing our skills gap and preparing our next workforce, we must ensure that our policies reflect that priority. We have to allow students to take full advantage of post-secondary financial resources in preparation for in-demand careers. Let tell you the story of “J”. She and students just like her are the reason I am so passionate about CTE. These students deserve the opportunity to qualify for the Alaska Performance Scholarship.
“J” is a full time student in our district with a 3.8 GPA. She has great attendance, gets high accolades from her teachers, counselors and administrators. Next week “J” starts an internship with a local business that focuses on sustainable home goods. She has spent the last month doing market research for this company and is working toward her Lean Six Sigma certification. “J” plans to attend college. But “J” doesn’t qualify for APS because our policy prioritizes a foreign language over the highly marketable skills and dual credit she has already earned in her CTE courses.
I am not here to argue that a foreign language is less important than a CTE pathway, but I am here to urge our state leadership to recognize that CTE is just as important as a foreign language in preparing students for post-secondary education and training.
House Bill 155 is an important step forward in recognizing the value and rigor or Career and Technical Education. Please reach out to our state and local leaders to urge them to support the amendment to the APS Scholarship program.