The Obama Administration has helped articulate the important role community colleges play in educating our nation’s workforce and boosting the economy. With a large share of projected job openings requiring college education of less than a bachelor’s degree and offering family-supporting wages, the nation’s community colleges can make a huge contribution toward a competitive national workforce. Community colleges offer a broad array of career-oriented certificates and associate degrees through what is generally called “career technical education” or CTE. Policymakers across the country are hoping to rely heavily on community college CTE programs to recharge their economies by helping students earn credentials with labor market value.
Our research reveals that this great potential for CTE to contribute to college completion and the California economy is not being realized. As we explained in our 2011 report The Road Less Traveled, students are not widely encouraged to pursue CTE programs and those who do make far more progress in completing course work than they do in acquiring credentials in their fields. Although one third of community college course enrollments are in courses classified as vocational, only 3% of all entering degree seekers earn vocational associate degrees and only 5% earn certificates.
This brief is a summary of the first two reports in a four-part project to continue to identify challenges facing CTE and ways to deliver better results for students and the California workforce. The first report, released January 2012, provides an overview of the complex structure and funding arrangements for the CTE mission and the closely related economic and workforce development (EWD) mission. The second report, released February 2012, examines the full set of career-oriented credentials offered by the California Community Colleges (CCC). The entire four-part study is guided by a set of criteria that characterize an effective CTE enterprise in support of student success and a competitive state workforce.
This is an important and opportune time to accelerate efforts to strengthen and streamline CTE: new system directions for student success, new system leadership for workforce and economic development, and new opportunities to compete for external funding, all bode well for raising the profile of CTE within the system; business and industry groups are seeking solutions to California’s projected shortage of educated workers, especially in critical sectors such as health care and professional, scientific and technical services; and CTE faculty and staff across the colleges are eager to demonstrate and enhance the benefits of career education to California’s economy.