Sally Downey

Career and technical education, also known as CTE in school circles, is getting a lot of attention these days in national media – and for good reason. Research shows that students who complete CTE training, such as Cosmetology or Radio Broadcasting or Aviation, are more likely than other students to be engaged in learning and successful in school and career.

For instance, students who attend the East Valley Institute of Technology have a 95 percent high school graduation rate – 20 percentage points higher than Arizona’s grad rate of 75 percent – and two out of three go on to college. Within one year of completing their CTE programs, 86 percent of EVIT students are in jobs, college or the military.

But not all programs labeled “CTE” in Arizona schools and nationally are the same. As with any education decision, students and parents need to ask questions before enrolling in CTE at their high school, community college, or at a centralized campus like EVIT.

What are the credentials and experience of the instructor? For instance, if your son or daughter is taking Culinary Arts or Automotive or Welding, ask if the teacher has ever worked in those industries. Is the class certified by a professional credentialing body, such as the American Welding Society? Will the training prepare your child to test for a state or national license, such as Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)? If it’s a high school program, is dual enrollment college credit offered? Are business and industry actively involved in determining the program’s curriculum?

Quality CTE trains students in the skills necessary to earn a professional, industry-recognized credential or college credit or both. It provides opportunities for hands-on, real-world experience in the form of job shadowing or internships. It teaches students the so-called “soft skills,” such as being able to communicate effectively, that employers say are all too often missing in today’s job candidates. And it accomplishes all this because the program works closely with business and industry to ensure that students are being trained to meet current industry standards.

In short: By the time a student completes a CTE program, he or she should be ready to go into the workforce. It might be the job they’ve chosen as their career, or it might be an entry-level position to make money while going to college in a related field. For instance, many students in EVIT’s School of Health Sciences start off their careers as medical, dental, nursing or veterinary assistants – while going to college to become registered nurses, dental hygienists, vet techs, or even dentists, veterinarians or doctors.

Years ago, when CTE was called “vocational education” and EVIT was called Mesa Vo-Tech, it was viewed as an alternative for students who didn’t have the academic skills to go to college. Today, quality CTE and EVIT are proving to be a better prep for success than traditional college prep in meeting the needs of all students — whether they are merit scholars or students with special needs or those who learn best through hands-on instruction.

But CTE programs are only as good as the expertise, effort and expectations that are put into them. So students and parents: Do your homework, ask questions and choose wisely to ensure your CTE is the high quality that you deserve.

• Dr. Sally Downey is superintendent of the East Valley Institute of Technology, a career and technical education school with two Mesa campuses serving high school students and adults who live in 10 East Valley school districts.

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