Career Opportunities: Career Technical Education and the College Completion Agenda – Part IV: Aligning Policy with Mission for Better Outcomes

March 2013

The California Community Colleges are vital to closing the projected shortfall of Californians with a postsecondary credential and sustaining the state’s economic competitiveness. Increasing the number of students who pursue and earn certificates and associate degrees in career technical education (CTE) fields is an important component of the postsecondary completion challenge, but one that has been under-emphasized in a system with a strong and historic commitment to its transfer mission. In today’s economy, well-designed CTE programs offer economic security to students and the foundation for further educational and economic gain.

IHELP’s examination of the current CTE mission within the California Community Colleges has resulted in a series of reports, the culmination of which is this systematic study of the degree to which system and state policies, as codified in statute and regulation, are supportive of the mission. With extensive input from faculty and staff in the field (see acknowledgements box), we learned about the challenges facing colleges to design and deliver quality CTE programs that help students earn credentials of value in the workplace. We studied statutes and regulations to identify instances where policies are not ideally aligned with the goals of CTE.

The policies governing the community colleges were designed with the historically important transfer mission foremost in mind. Policies matter, as they set forth the expectations and create the incentives and rules that influence students’ experiences and outcomes. As the role of the colleges to promote workforce development has become increasingly vital to the state’s economy, it is important to adapt the infrastructure of policies to serve students most effectively, whether or not they are intending to transfer prior to starting a career.

We used the framework depicted in the figure below to impose conceptual order on a highly complex set of issues. As with all four reports in this Career Opportunities series, we defined an effective CTE mission in terms of seven criteria that we derived from a review of the literature on the community college career education mission. Drawing on our findings from all parts of this project, we organized potential barriers to more effective CTE into three recurring themes. We then identified those sections of the Education Code and Title 5 of the Code of Regulations that seemed applicable to the potential barriers. Our analysis produced a set of options for revising policies and adopting new policies that would help to remove barriers to satisfying the criteria for an effective CTE mission. We hope that our suggestions will serve as a resource to the community college system as it continues to work to improve student success.

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