Rethinking postsecondary teacher education pathways

There’s a prevalent belief that all career and technical education (CTE) students intend to work exclusively in industry. But many students, if given the opportunity, will choose CTE teacher education.

“I came to West-MEC to define my path. And now, through dual enrollment, I will finish the Biomedical Science program well into my associate degree and with a pathway to a CTE teacher degree,” said Sophia Urrea Gonzales. “My dream has always been to become a teacher, and this is a great opportunity I can start to accomplish while in high school. Thank you!”

Postsecondary education needs to pioneer innovative, even radical, approaches to expand access and improve opportunities for every student. The traditional pathway for higher education has a student enter college upon graduation from high school.  The hope is that the student graduates with a bachelor’s degree. And they might acquire an associate degree along the way.

Consider, instead, pathways where there are multiple entry/exit points along the way. Stackable credentials maximize opportunities for students to shift seamlessly between the roles of learner and worker throughout their careers.

In 2009, the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) published a report identifying a shortage of opportunities for bachelor’s degrees in Arizona. The report identified that 69,000 new degrees would have to be produced in Arizona — just to reach the average of other states. As a result, ABOR reduced the required number of credits for a bachelor’s degree and increased transfer credit potential from two-year colleges.

Offer innovative approaches to workforce development.

Through 90/30 programs at Northern Arizona University (NAU), students can transfer up to 90 credit hours, including dual enrollment community college coursework, into a degree. Curriculum and programs were redesigned. This innovative approach lowers the minimum number of credit hours taken at NAU to 30 (or only 10 courses).

The Bachelor of Science in Education, Career and Technical Education (BSED CTE) degree program was created to help professionals advance in the technical areas of their careers and become equipped to teach others. The degree is intentionally flexible, with pathways available for those in industry or in education.

Students focus on an emphasis area in one of five clusters. Or they may choose more than one with the occupational emphasis.

  • Business and Marketing
  • Education and Training
  • Family and Consumer Sciences
  • Health Careers
  • Industrial and Emerging Technologies

In the 90/30 program, 75% of the degree credits may come from outside of NAU. So our program capitalizes on content knowledge gained from transferred credits and work experiences. Students can stack certificates at the community college level into an associate degree. Or they might transfer those certificates directly into our program. They can move in and out of higher education as needed for career growth. For students who focused on industry-based certifications, we also have a pathway.

Experience the adaptability of career and technical education.

The 90/30 program at NAU not only recognizes, but encourages, those who work in business and industry to bring those experiences back to school. NAU’s BSED CTE program offers experiential credit through two methods: NOCTI testing and verified job experience. Our program also recognizes the important training provided while serving in the armed forces. Through ACE credit, we transfer military experience directly into the emphasis of the degree.

Once at NAU, students take core classes in career and technical education. Leveraging the students’ occupational knowledge and skills, the CTE classes at NAU build from that foundation and add professional knowledge of teaching and learning. Course content includes teaching methods, curriculum development, learning styles, instructional technology, and education research.

Each student aligns class assignments with content areas. Students with welding backgrounds design curriculum and teach lessons related to welding, whereas students with nursing backgrounds focus on nursing. The degree program works with a student’s content knowledge, not against it.

Career and technical education encompasses teaching content that relates to a specific business/industry skill set rather than focusing on an academic area. Regardless of content area, all career and technical education fields share common elements. These include work-based learning, competency-based curriculum, integration of academics/applied academics, workplace readiness, and evaluation and assessment of skills.

Expand access to high-quality CTE.

After establishing our BSED CTE as a 90/30 program, we strengthened our partnerships with the 13 state community college districts. Arizona’s Arizona Transfer Model communicates a vision that “college degree pathways are accessible to all Arizonans.” Through Articulation Task Forces (ATFs), public community colleges, tribal colleges and public universities maintain an Arizona General Education Curriculum. Together, they work to establish course equivalencies, common core matrices and articulated degree pathways. NAU’s faculty participate in ATFs to ensure pathways are updated and promoted with community college partners.

But there was more to be done. Why should stackable credentials stop with a bachelor’s degree?  Thus, in 2014, NAU’s CTE programs launched an accelerated bachelor’s-to-master’s-degree pathway.  The 90/30 BSED CTE was combined with a 30-credit Master of Education (MED) in CTE degree. Students can  complete both degrees in as little as 18 months! The innovative accelerated model we created allows students to count up to 12 credits of coursework twice, toward each program.

We are eager to expand our model, reaching higher yet. We are building partnerships — with West-MEC, a career and technical education district (CTED) in Arizona, and Maricopa Community Colleges — that benefit both the students and the community. Innovative teacher education programs such as ours help fulfill workforce demands. Using the technical skills and industry certifications earned at West-MEC, dual enrollment students can work in their career field while attending college. And, often, employers support employees with tuition reimbursement as they pursue career-enhancing education.

Fourteen West-MEC programs articulate into associate degrees at Maricopa Community Colleges and into the BSED CTE degree at NAU.

  • Automotive Technology
  • Coding
  • Culinary Principles
  • Emergency Medical Technician
  • Energy & Industrial Technology
  • Fire Science
  • IT Security
  • Law & Public Safety
  • Medium/Heavy Diesel
  • Physical Therapy Technician
  • Precision Machining
  • Welding Technology
  • Hairstyling
  • Aesthetician

High school CTE students appreciate the opportunity, as one of West-MEC’s Culinary Principles students expressed. “I want to teach students and help them become all they are meant to become,” said Rozlynn Haag. “All throughout high school, I knew I wanted to teach. And culinary is the most important subject to me, the one I want to share with others. In culinary, I found the highlight of my high school career, where I am proud to make superb food. I definitely want to help others have the same experience.”

This innovative pathway will grow industry experts, CTE teachers and instructional leaders of tomorrow.

Nicole Hampton is ACTE’s 2021 Postsecondary Educator of the Year, faculty in the College of Education at Northern Arizona University and CTE area coordinator.

Speranta Klees is the postsecondary partnerships manager at West-MEC and the ACTEAZ 2015 CTE Counselor of the Year.

Meet the writers at ACTE’s CareerTech VISION 2021. They will present an in-person session — To the Workforce, and Beyond! Nonlinear Pathways for Postsecondary Attainment.