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Perkins V: Putting student futures first

male teaching kids about operating mechanics and electronics

By Katherine Hughes | March 24, 2020

Career and technical education (CTE) programs help students acquire the academic, technical, and employability skills they will need to be successful. REL Southwest is helping Round Rock Independent School District examine the extent to which their CTE programs of study align with high-wage, fast-growth industry sectors in the Central Texas region. We will share details of that work in a future blog post. In preparing to release our findings, we invited Katherine Hughes, principal researcher and director of the federally funded Career and Technical Education Research Network, to discuss some notable features of the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, known as Perkins V. The act provides federal support for CTE programs.


The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V) was unanimously passed by Congress in July 2018. The legislation went into effect in July 2019, and it allows states to use the first year for planning and transition. This period of time to prepare for implementation has been essential, since Perkins V includes many definitions and stipulations different from those of its predecessor, Perkins IV.

One significant new requirement of the law is for states and local applicants to use a data-driven process to align program offerings to labor market needs. What’s more, they must provide evidence of that alignment by demonstrating that their programs represent high-skill, high-wage, and/or in-demand occupations. This stipulation puts students first by ensuring that federally funded programs are in economically viable fields and provide students with worthwhile opportunities.

States are responsible for drawing on labor market data to set criteria for identifying high-skill, high-wage, and in-demand occupations. States are using a variety of data points for these criteria, such as an occupation’s education or training qualifications for entry; median or other measures of wages; and current job openings along with projected growth. Some states are reporting these data only for the state level, while others provide it regionally as well. For example, Nebraska’s H3 website describes the state’s high-skill, high-wage, and high-demand criteria, and users can search for H3 occupations—those that meet all three standards—at the state or regional levels.

The legislation gives local applicants new responsibilities as well to show that their programs reflect labor market needs. Examples of local applicants include a school district or group of districts, a community college or district, or a tribal organization. They must now conduct a comprehensive local needs assessment that includes consultations with employers and industry representatives (among other groups). The local Perkins application must describe both the results of the needs assessment and how it informs the choice of local program offerings. Applicants must show how the funds awarded will be used to meet the specified needs, as well as cite labor market data to justify their programs.

It is likely that some programs established prior to Perkins V will not meet state or regional criteria, will no longer be eligible for Perkins funding, and may be closed. However, some flexibility can be offered in cases where programs don’t align with state- or regional-level high-skill, high-wage, or in-demand criteria. For example, if fine-grained data are not available at the community level, states may allow local recipients to show demand using evidence such as letters from employers in the community who commit to hiring program graduates. 

It is notable that Perkins V holds both state and local entities responsible for the economic relevance of program offerings and insists that these decisions be data driven. And recognizing the rapid pace of economic change, the legislation requires states to continuously consult with business and industry, and stipulates that the comprehensive local needs assessments be updated at least every two years. These demands aim to help ensure that the CTE skills students learn and the CTE credentials they earn will have value in the labor market and lead to family-sustaining jobs.


For more information about the CTE Research Network, browse the network’s website and sign up for the network’s mailing list.

For more information on career and technical education, see the following resources from around the REL Program:

This work was funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) under contract 91990018C0002, administered by American Institutes for Research. The content of this blog post does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. government.

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Author Information

Katherine Hughes

Katherine Hughes, Ph.D.

Principal Researcher | American Institutes for Research

khughes@air.org