Written by Kelly McCurdy, Atlas Professional Development

There’s a shift in the winds, with dollars behind it

This CTE Month, things are a little different. This February, in addition to rounding out our second year in a global pandemic, the United States is facing an acute labor shortage and a simultaneous drop in entry-level hiring of 45% since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic (Flynn, 2021). In response to these conditions and as part of a marked shift in priorities, the Biden administration, most notably First Lady Dr. Biden and Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, have all emphasized the immediate need for focus and funding for Career and Technical Education (CTE) as a part of a holistic plan to serve the needs of our entire nation for the next generation and a key component of the administration’s infrastructure priorities.

While the glacial shift from a four-year degree as the default post-secondary option for students is one of many uncertain changes, it isn’t necessarily cause for alarm. The prioritization of training our students to take the reins is taking shape in the form of increases in federal funding to the tune of tens to hundreds of millions of dollars across various programs related to CTE (Curtis, 2021). CTE is having a moment, and that moment is just beginning.

Students and families are rethinking how to make education work for them and their futures

Since 2017, among the prospective and enrolled students in CTE programs, there has been a substantive drop in the percentage of families for whom a four-year degree after high school is their primary plan. The overwhelming majority of families stated that a four-year degree was still on the agenda, but the rate of those eager for equally rigorous and fruitful post-secondary education is rising. We also know that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it a dire need for accelerated learning in our PreK-12 settings, and rapid engagement in proven effectual accelerated learning programs is a key component to setting our students back on track, particularly for our students who are enrolled in schools who have been slower to return to–or faster to leave once again–the physical classroom in response to COVID-19 spikes. But students and families are thinking even further down the line, toward finding a career field that feels like a good fit. Families want their students to be successful, but they also want them to find fulfillment in their careers. Families are the most receptive not to CTE enrollment messages that emphasize the financial or social opportunities, but for the chance for students to explore their interests and to find a career about which they are passionate (Fitzgerald & Whitehouse, 2021). 

The tides are turning and enrollment in vocational courses no longer indicates an alternative to academic rigor in the classroom. Contrary, many of these programs are not only competitive, but they are also quickly establishing themselves as a stop on the pathway to and through post-secondary education, including four-year degree programs and beyond. CTE programs are more than the lone autoshop courses of decades past. They are robust training and certification programs that are often highly localized programming based on analysis of local and national labor markets and their projected growth potential.

In the Brazos Valley, College Station is a growing hub of biomanufacturing for the state and the nation (Jones, 2021). In what’s called the hub of the Texas triangle, the valley hosts Texas A&M University as well as an ever growing number of biomanufacturing companies, specializing in everything from biopharmaceuticals to clinical and commercial production of cell and gene therapies. The field of biomedicine is predicted to expand between 6-8% over the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The local Bryan Independent School District is responding by partnering with Texas A&M University, Blinn College, Project Lead the Way (PLTW), FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies, and the National Center for Therapeutics Manufacturing to offer a new CTE program designed to prepare students to enter this growing and meaningful field (Jones, 2022).

Equity in CTE is both a problem and an opportunity

CTE enrollment makes families much more likely to say that they are going to finish a certification or degree program before or after high school graduation. This is especially true for Latino and low-income families, but historically, these are the students who are enrolled in CTE programs with much lower lifetime earning potential than those pursued by their peers who are not part of marginalized communities. Part of the pursuit of equity in CTE is to work to make available all programs for all students, and to promote programs with the highest growth potential to our students with the greatest need, and serve as part of a racial justice framework.

In addition to counseling program enrollment and selection, CTE programs have the opportunity to leverage financial assets through Perkins V to specifically address the needs of special populations. Consider our students who are learning while experiencing homelessness; integration between CTE programs and supports, McKinney Vento, homeless education and homeless response systems in schools and districts is bringing the promise of all of these programs into reality. As CTE programs across the nation expand in scope and enrollment, leaders are seizing the chance to creatively integrate with other programs to support historically underserved students (Dukes, et al. 2021).

School websites are a Top 10 source of CTE information

Prospective CTE students and families look for information in a variety of locations, foremost from teachers and counselors, but increasingly on school websites. Of all of the different places to learn about CTE and to make the crucial decision to enroll or not, school websites are a top 10 sources of information. For Black families, it is a top 2 source. School websites serve more inquirers than state Department of Education sites, Google searches and program alumni (Fitzgerald & Whitehouse, 2021). Keeping these repositories of information current and comprehensive has a direct impact on the recruitment and retention of students who choose to enroll in CTE programs. Documenting and publishing the curriculum of CTE programs on an Atlas public site accessible through school and district websites is another chance that leaders are seizing to share with their stakeholders the opportunities afforded by the programs they offer. 

As part of CTE Month, Atlas will be featuring the public sites of CTE schools from our global community and their successes. Do you have a story or curriculum that you would like to see featured in our upcoming blogs? Submit this form by March 1, 2022 to share your CTE story!


Curtis, Z. (2021, October 20). Senate Releases FY 2022 Appropriations Bill Text [web log]. Retrieved January 20, 2022, from https://ctepolicywatch.acteonline.org/2021/10/senate-passes-fy-2022-appropriations-bill.html

Dukes, C., Glynn, S., Seeley-Schreck, C., Sherman, S., & Culina, J. (2021, January 13). CTE and Equity: The work of intentionally embedding equity in CTE programming [webinar]. Advance CTE. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BD1mPJ3XXRs.

Fitzgerald, K., & Whitehouse, S. (2021, April 30). Research Update: Results of a National Survey on How to Communicate the Value of CTE with Families [webinar]. Advance CTE. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCMROowUmr0.

Flynn, E. (2021, February 19). What Is Career and Technical Education, and Why Does It Matter? [web log]. Retrieved January 20, 2022, from https://educationnorthwest.org/news/what-career-and-technical-education-and-why-does-it-matter.

Jones, H. (2021, March 5). Is Brazos Valley becoming the Biotech Valley of Texas? KRHD 25. Retrieved January 20, 2022, from https://www.kxxv.com/brazos/is-brazos-valley-becoming-the-biotech-valley-of-texas

Tuggle, D. (2022, January 13). Bryan ISD adding biomedical program to career and technical education career path. KBTX 3. Retrieved January 20, 2022, from https://www.kbtx.com/2022/01/14/bryan-isd-adding-biomedical-program-career-technical-education-career-path/.

The Author

unnamedKelly McCurdy is a Professional Development Content Specialist with Faria Education Group, based in Portland, Oregon. She consults with educators domestically and internationally facilitating conversations about curriculum development and pedagogy. Kelly’s first experience in education was teaching secondary Humanities, and has since supported public schools as lead teacher, committee chair, and program director. Kelly earned her Bachelor of Arts in English and her Masters in Teaching from Washington State University.

Social Link: www.linkedin.com/in/kellymccurdypdx

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