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In recent years, Career and Technical Education (CTE) options have experienced a resurgence in demand. The benefits of having high school students focus on classes related to a given industry or field are becoming more and more obvious. A major factor in this trend is the increased sophistication of CTE pathways, which enable students to hit the ground running toward their career of choice soon after graduation.

The growing interest in CTE corresponds to an increased focus on college and career readiness nationwide as part of the Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA). In assessing the overall state of education in the United States a few years back, ESSA officials determined that a significant gap exists between both contemporary and projected workforce skills and workforce demands. The large role that technology plays in almost every industry in the country was a factor in this assessment, and an expanded focus on CTE was identified as a potential solution for narrowing this gap.

Through the College and Career Readiness Research Alliance, REL Central has taken part in several projects looking at the effectiveness and value of CTE. One recent REL Central study, The Impact of Career and Technical Education on Postsecondary Outcomes in Nebraska and South Dakota, compared the short-term (2-year) and longer-term (5-year) postsecondary success of students who did and did not focus on CTE during high school.

Working with the Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) and South Dakota Department of Education (SDDOE), REL Central used data from five student cohorts comprising over 110,000 students. The results of the study indicate that students who focused on CTE had greater short-term postsecondary success and were on par with students who did not focus on CTE in terms of projected longer-term postsecondary success. These results were in line with a similar study conducted by REL Northwest.

The study also found that in addition to having higher high school graduation rates than their non-CTE peers, CTE students had higher rates of postsecondary education enrollment within two and five years of high school graduation. They were also 4% more likely to obtain a postsecondary award up to an associate’s degree within five years of high school graduation and only 1% less likely to obtain a bachelor’s degree within that same time frame.

Given these findings, stakeholders in Nebraska and South Dakota are now proactively engaging with policymakers, businesses, and education leaders to plan the next steps for improving access to CTE in their states.

Additional publications presenting CTE-focused research and data can be found on the CTE Research Network website, which is supported by the Institute of Education Sciences. If you have further questions regarding data or research on CTE, be sure to fill out an online Ask A REL form.