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The State of Career and Technical Education, in Charts

More than 8 in 10 high school graduates completed at least one course in a career-education field in 2019, according to new federal data. However, it’s unclear how much secondary career pathways really link to students’ work after graduation.

The U.S. Department of Education’s annual Condition of Education, released last week, highlighted detailed data from 2019 to give an updated snapshot of career and technical education teachers, courses, participation, and postsecondary degrees.

Career education remains somewhat skewed to male students, 87 percent of whom earned career-tech credit in 2019, 5 percentage points more than female students who earned CTE credit. Each credit, or Carnegie unit, represents 120 hours of class time in a particular subject.

More students took information technology courses than any other field. Technology and health sciences have gotten boosts in recent years, as more school districts offer “pathways,” or multi-year curriculums focused on high-need career fields.

In 2023, every state except Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New York passed career-education laws, with a majority of the new laws adding accountability measures for the programs and supporting more industry partnerships and work-based learning for schools. The legislative push was part of a more than decade-long state effort to make career-focused coursework more challenging and build pathways from school to work, regardless of whether students go to college after high school.

The federal data show that career-tech pathways may still funnel students into shorter-term degrees after high school. Among public school graduates in 2013 who entered a college degree program by 2021, those who had concentrated on career-education courses in high school were nearly twice as likely to earn an associate degree (14 percent versus 9 percent) than those who didn’t focus on CTE. However, 54 percent of non-CTE students earned at least a bachelor’s degree, while less than half of CTE-focused students did so.

The federal data also show school districts continue to struggle to recruit and keep high-quality career-tech-education teachers across a multitude of fields.

For example, the 42,000-student Kern High School district, in Bakersfield, Calif., offers—and must recruit teachers for—some 40 career pathways, from finance to medical research to industrial robotics.

Dean McGee, Kern’s deputy superintendent of educational services and innovative programs and a 2023 EdWeek Leader to Learn From, launched a special teacher-induction program to move industry professionals like welders to the classroom, which McGee said has helped them keep up with demand.

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