Implementation of Career and Technical Education (CTE) and Influences on Youth Aspirations

Nationwide, support for Career and Technical Education (CTE) is growing as educators and policymakers seek to expand postsecondary opportunities for youth and meet the human capital needs of a technologically advancing labor market. This is a major shift in the U.S., where vocational learning in the past has been widely considered low-status and struggled to garner significant educational investments. My dissertation uses a case study approach to investigate recent efforts to revitalize CTE in comprehensive high schools and the ways CTE students make decisions about college and work in a changing occupational landscape.

Dissertation title: Career and Technical Education in the Era of College for All: Youth Postsecondary Aspirations in “Oaksburg, USA”

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How do educators and other educational stakeholders understand the goals of CTE? How do these understandings influence CTE implementation?

In response to the resurgence of interest in and support for Career and Technical Education among educational policymakers nationwide, education researchers have called for attention to the ways CTE implementation dismantles and/or reproduces educational stratification (Hodge et al., 2020; Puckett & Gravel, 2020). Presently, little is known about how educators implementing CTE envision its goals, or how this shapes their enactment of CTE programming, partnerships with local industry, and advising of diverse students to prepare them for careers and college. My dissertation helps fill this gap through interviews and observations with 54 administrators, school counselors, and partners in industry and workforce development as they developed and enacted CTE programs. 


Whereas the educators and other educational stakeholders in the study once encouraged all students to attend four-year colleges, today they believe it is important to provide students with opportunities to prepare for a variety of postsecondary education and work options. They consider CTE to be integral to these efforts. My findings show that education stakeholders’ processes of sense-making (Coburn, 2001, 2006; Spillane et al., 2002; Weick et al., 2005) about the relationship between vocational education and educational equity shaped local adaptations of CTE’s structure and collectively-understood purpose, with implications for whether the programs supported or cooled out students’ higher educational aspirations. Based on these findings, I discuss considerations for an equitable implementation of CTE.

How do youth in CTE set education and career goals?

Career and Technical Education provides students with opportunities to explore careers and develop in-demand occupational skillsets. Students often have the opportunity to earn credentials that can be articulated to postsecondary programs and/or provide employment opportunities. Yet little work has examined how participating in CTE influences the ways students develop college and career goals. I surveyed 1,200 high school students and conducted interviews and focus groups with over 150 young people in order to understand how extent of participation in CTE interacts with other school and family factors to shape postsecondary aspirations. While analyses are ongoing, early findings reveal that youth are highly concerned about the consequences of college debt, and many view CTE as providing opportunities to gain valuable skills and credentials for free or low-cost.

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scashdollar(at)uchicago.edu

©2019 by Sarah Cashdollar