Tag Archives: CTE

Rural triangle: School, community, economy

Curved arrows labeled Education, Economy, and Community chase one another in front of a green triangle.In November, 2015 I began posting a list of resources for folks who want to improve the relationship between rural schools and their communities for their mutual benefit.

It’s time to revisit the topic.

It’s still true that, as I wrote in 2015:

In rural communities, schools cannot be considered separate from economic development and community development. The vitality and policies of any one of the three impacts the other two.

And the 2015 description of rural brain drain still is largely accurate.

But rural America’s problems are getting more attention these days, most notably from rural Americans themselves who are stepping up try to reverse the decline of the rural American economy and prevent the loss of their communities and community schools.

I’ve shortened descriptions of resources I posted in 2015 and added dates for the resources so readers can quickly get a feel for the changes.

What’s happening in rural America?

(2009) The brightest students are leaving rural communities; job options for those who remain are diminishing.

(2012) The rural student population is getting larger, more diverse, and poorer.

(2013) Net migration isn’t offsetting the effects of brain drain.

Who is to blame for rural brain drain?

(2009) Schools and their communities each contribute to rural brain drain, setting the course for both to die. “Teachers, parents, and other influential adults cherry-pick the young people destined to leave and ignore the ones most likely to stay or return.”

(2017) Rural schools are failing their communities. A college degree in rural America is now synonymous with leaving and having no way to sustainably come back. Rural schools must work with their communities, rather than seeing themselves as separate from the cycle of economic decline.

How could rural schools aid in community development?

(2011) Schools could address community problems around medical care, food access, etc. by acting as self-sustaining revenue facilities.

How could rural schools aid in economic development?

(2011) A class of high school students in the poorest county in North Carolina designed and built a much-needed farmer’s market pavilion for the area.

(2012) Add skill applications to high school courses.

(2012) Greenville, NY, High School created what was, in effect, a small business incubator within its facility, offering a business rent in exchange for hands-on work experience for its high school students.

(2012) Encourage entrepreneurship by showing students online training resources they can access, and (2014) teach students to look for problems that require solutions.

(2013) Place-based, scholarly research by rural students can have direct, positive impact on local economic development.

(2013) Students in Cody NE, population 154, built a a 3,300-sq. ft. straw-bale building to use as grocery store and run it themselves. Inside, lettering on the wall above the produce cooler reads “It’s more than a store. It’s our future.”

(2014)  Capture the imagination of students who don’t see college as a path for themselves by school programs that target local economic problems.

(2015) Pell Grant experiment needs needs rural  scrutiny to make sure its rules won’t keep some rural students out of courses that fit their needs and interests.

(2017) Offer students a combination of coursework, internships, and job shadowing experiences to enable them to make informed choices about higher education, work, and place of residence. Preparing students for a continuously changing mainstream economy can give them the opportunity to return home as entrepreneurs or participants in the online space.

(2017) Schools can support project-based learning on authentic local problems that challenge students. For example, in Ness City, KS, an industrial arts class elected to design and build a tiny house. Other classes helped with interior design and marketing, and a special education class is documenting the project in a book. The classes plan to market the home across the country.

(2017) A SCORE chapter in Massachusetts collaborated with PTOs to deliver a six week, after-school program to train students in grades 4 through 8 to run their own businesses. The 72 participants in the initial program launched 52 new businesses, some of which were partnerships complete with partnership agreements.

How can rural schools and communities collaborate?

(2017) Public charters may offer rural communities a way to retain local schools.

(2011) Help teens get ready for the world of work with good attitudes and good skills.

(2012) Let teens work alongside adults to contribute to their communities and to develop and apply real skills.

(2012) Require students to apply classroom knowledge to real world writing situations and offer hands-on learning of salable skills.

(2012) Schools can grow their future teachers who will also be their communities’ future leaders.

(2014) Offer teens after-school programs that do more than distract.

(2014) Integrate non-academic services to students, their families, and even the wider community into the academic program.

(2016) Communities and schools need to work collaboratively to generate educational opportunities and economic prosperity in places where the number of voters without a child in school is a majority. Downloadable PDF from Battelle for Kids.

(2016)  School personnel and community members need to change the mindset that every kid needs to go to college. Today’s career and technical education, or CTE, can lead to a decent-paying job, particularly in those fields where employers say they are trying to cope with a serious “skills gap.”

(2017) Rural schools and their communities need to work together to turn around neighborhoods and schools long before those schools—and all the significance and services they bring with them—disappear.

What about the “no college for me” kids?

(2013) Give Career and Technical Education (CTE) students the same degree of academic support given their college-bound counterparts so they can take advantage of educational opportunities they need for their careers.

(2012) Six ideas for businesses serving the business market that require no post-high school training.

(2015) The internet allows someone with determination to learn skills for a good-paying job without the expenses of a college degree.

(2016) For years, there’s been almost no assistance for CTE students seeking post-secondary training. Three recent developments suggest the tide may be turning: An experimental program to give  in financial aid to those in nontraditional programs (such as coding boot camps), a MOOC with a graded-paper option, and the introduction of a federal law to expand concurrent enrollment opportunities for CTE students.

Who is working on the three-pronged rural problem?

SaveYour.Town Two small-town Iowans offer webinars, toolkits, and online communities to help people learn, grow and take action to revitalize their communities.

The Rural School and Community Trust (ruraledu.org) has many resources, including Tools to fight rural school consolidation.

The Center for Rural Affairs (cfra.org) developed a series of articles on why rural schools need to be kept alive. The articles are available as a 6-page pdf document.

The Orton Family Foundation empowers people to shape the future of their communities by collective, collaborative activities focusing on their unique strengths.


Have I missed items that should be here? Give me a shout in the comments or @LindaAragoni on Twitter

Updated June 23, 2017; March 27, 2017.

© 2017 Linda G. Aragoni

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Encouraging news for CTE

In the rural area where I live, getting high school graduates “college and career ready” is shorthand for getting graduates ready for college which will lead to a career.

photo collage of photos representing four CTE fields with slogan Hands and brains CTE

Career and Technical Education students who want the career without a four-year college degree get no respect.

Quite the contrary.

CTE students are mocked, bullied, and generally discriminated against even while stories about how adolescents without college degrees are building wildly successful businesses are discussed over coffee at Bob’s Diner.

I read three articles this week that made me think the tide might be turning.

Financial aid for nontraditional students

A month ago Microsoft launched a series of classes in data science through edX.org, the nonprofit online learning destination founded by Harvard University and MIT. The entire Data Science course costs $516.

Data science is are one of the hottest professions, with more job offerings than candidates, and median salary around $90,000.

This week eCampusNews reported a federal Department of Education experimental program will make financial aid available nontraditional students to take courses including coding boot camps and online courses offered by nontraditional training providers in partnership with colleges and universities.

Sounds a bit like the classes Microsoft has started, doesn’t it?

Such aid for nontraditional training would make good, twenty-first century jobs possible for CTE students in my area.

Auto mechanic changes oil on vehicle on lift

CTE can lead to a career in auto mechanics.

MOOC with graded paper option

Shortly after massive open online courses appeared on the educational scene,  providers of the free courses began offering students who participated in discussions and passed multiple choice quizzes the opportunity to buy a certificate as documentation of their experience.

Certificates for MOOCs I’ve taken have cost about $30—and I’ve taken MOOCs that were as good as the best traditional university courses for which I paid considerably more than $30.

Here’s the other thing: Students taking a MOOC don’t need to make any financial investment until they are sure they are going to get through the course.

Now MIT is offering a MOOC with more scholarly twist.

The 12-week course “Introduction to Philosophy: God, Knowledge and Consciousness” will enable students to obtain a verified ID certificate by writing a paper which will be graded and commented upon by professional philosophers. For the MIT philosophy course, the verified certificate is $300.

In effect, students learn for free;  they pay only if they choose to take the final exam.

As competency-based programs become more common in higher education, I think we’ll see more MOOCs on the MIT pattern.

The MOOC format would essentially allow students to take a required course in a subject that’s difficult for them more than once, from different instructors from different universities, until they felt confident enough to do the exit activity.

That could be a boon for CTE students going after two-year degree in a competency-based program, for example.

Young woman with blonde ponytail lies under truck in parking lot making a quick repair.

CTE skills also come in handy in everyday crises.

Expanded CTE concurrent enrollment

To strengthen and expand dual and concurrent enrollment and early college high school options in Perkins-supported career technical education (CTE) programs, introduced Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced the Workforce Advance Act.

Strengthening concurrent enrollment programs for CTE students is essential if they are to get advanced training.

Most concurrent enrollment courses in rural areas are taught on high school campuses by high school teacher, but CTE students from those schools are often bused to regional centers for CTE courses.

CTE instructors there may not be qualified to teach non-CTE courses, such as English composition, that their students would be required to take their first semester of college.

The Workforce Advance Act would allow school districts to use funding to support teachers pursuing the credentials needed to teach these courses in their high schools, helping to remove a barrier to providing access to college credit.

Finally, the Workforce Advance bill would allow the Department of Education to use national CTE activities to help identify successful methods and best practices for providing dual or concurrent enrollment programs and early college high school career and technical education opportunities.

Finding out the best ways to provide both CTE  and general education credits is important.

As I explain in another post, assuming the CTE students’ high school background is good enough that they don’t need to take remedial courses (a big assumption) first semester,  students would be taking primarily general education requirements.

Through dual enrollment, the academically oriented students usually get those requirements out of the way, but the CTE student may not receive that benefit.

I don’t expect any of these developments to earn CTE students the respect and support they deserve or help them acquire the skills their home communities desperately need, but I’m pleased to see a few signs that the issues are beginning to be noticed.


Acknowledgements. Thanks to the folks at Scoville-Meno in Bainbridge for letting me take photos on the shop floor. And I hope the woman with the ratchet wrench who was making a quick repair to her truck in the municipal parking lot got to her destination safely.

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Writing: The fortieth part of literacy?

Drawing of man and student is on cover of Literacy handbook for CTE teachersThe students who filled my English 101 classes over the years have been in the career and technical education arena.

Many of them are very smart folks, but they don’t know how to apply their smarts to writing.

While looking this week for resources for teaching such students, I discovered an teacher handbook called How Do You Expect Me To Teach Reading and Writing? which appears to be prepared for North Carolina CTE teachers.

Of the 82 pages in the handbook, only pages 15 and 16 are devoted exclusively to teaching writing.

Some of the literacy strategies discussed in section 4 of the handbook could be used in teaching topics related to writing; however, I didn’t see any strategies for actually teaching writing.

Is it just me, or does anyone else think it’s off balance to devote just 1/40 of a handbook about teaching reading and writing to teaching writing?

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CTE students: Lazy, stupid, irresponsible?

The local school district’s mailed its annual back-to-school publication to residents last week.

I took particular note of the information about student attendance at BOCES, our regional vocational education provider.

Attendance in BOCES’ Career and Technical Education programs, New Visions programs, Unique Placement programs and Career Academy are privileges that cost our school district substantial amount of funding. To attend these programs, students must annually complete an application and sign a contract for consideration to be approved for attendance. Students displaying poor attendance, poor behavior and/or poor academics thus violating their contract are subject to removal from these programs anytime.

I read that as:

Vocational kids are a drain on local resources.

Vocational kids are irresponsible.

Vocational kids are stupid.

Vocational kids should be punished for not being academically apt.

Parents shouldn’t expect their vocational program student to get any help from the home school.

If you were the parent of a kid who’d rather tinker with an engine than read Emily Dickinson, would you get the message that the local school didn’t want your kid?

Or am I over-reacting?

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More on concurrent enrollment’s value for students

Some months ago, I wrote about concurrent enrollment programs, high school courses that allow students to earn college credits for the work they do at their home high school¹.

In my local school district, students can take courses through Tompkins Cortland Community College. TC3’s Concurrent Enrollment Coordinator, Rhonda Kowalski-Oltz,  told met that on average, students from participating schools earn 10.3 credit hours. (The minimum full-time load student load at TC3 is 12 credit hours per semester, the average course load for a full-time matriculated student is 14-16 credit hours per semester.)

This spring, Kowalski-Oltz, said,  20 concurrently enrolled students will complete associate degrees  (either AA or AS²)  at TC3. All are transferring into four-year colleges as either juniors or second semester sophomores—a huge cost savings for them.

The associate degree advantage

The students who get AA or AS degrees, either when they complete high school or later, may get another benefit as well.

A 2014 Community College Research Center study found students who get a transfer-oriented associate degree before transferring to a four-year institution were 20-percentage points more likely to get their bachelor’s degree within four to six years than those who didn’t complete their AA or AS first.

The CCRC study’s authors say reasons for achievement advantage AA and AS degree holders have may result from the efficiency of transfer-oriented programs in avoiding credit loss upon transfer. It might also result from more subtle factors such as the perception that students who earned an associate degree have the skills and attitudes needed to complete a bachelor’s degree.

As long as students choose courses or sequences with an eye to what will be accepted at the school to which they plan to transfer, dual enrollment courses appear ideal for students planning to continue their education to the bachelor’s level or beyond.

The non-campus advantage for colleges

Dual enrollment also appears to be good for community colleges that accept the penny-pinching, bachelor’s degree seeking students.

I think it’s safe to say TC3 wouldn’t have operated the concurrent enrollment program for so long if it weren’t profitable.

If the students taking college courses at their high schools were enrolled on campus, they would have paid tuition, of course, but the college would also have had to provide instructors, classrooms and laboratories, heat and lights, auxiliary services, and parking places.

If the students had taken distance learning classes, they would have paid tuition. But then college would also have the attrition problems attendant upon distance classes in addition to the cost of instructors, technology, and support services for both instructors and students.

Between 2003 and 2013 the number of high school students participating in dual credit programs at TC3 increased from 2,879 to 8,448, according to Inside Counts, a publication of TC3’s Institutional Research Department, fall 2013 issue. The publication goes on to say this:

The impact [of concurrent enrollments] on TC3, while mostly invisible on the main campus, has been huge in terms of enrollment numbers (Figure 2). As regular credit enrollment declined from a peak in 2010, concurrent enrollment increased to fill much of the gap. In 2003-2004 concurrent students made up approximately 12 percent of the total FTEs (Full Time Equivalent unit equal to 30 credits) in TC#’s budget. By 2012-13 it was up to close to 21 percent of the College’s FTEs.

Winner for baccalaureate-bound

On the whole, dual enrollments look like a good deal for both the high school student seeking an affordable four-year degree and a community college looking for a way to attract students who can bolster its degree-granting success.

Unresolved question

The question that still bugs me is the question of fairness.

Are career-oriented students getting an equivalent degree of help preparing for the workplace as their baccalaureate-seeking peers are getting in preparing for college?

Do the Career-Technical Education (CTE) students get comparable support for a vocationally-oriented associate degree program as students going into more academically-oriented programs?

Do the articulation agreements between CTE programs and community colleges actually reduce the cost of an associate degree for students?

Are taxpayers, especially those in rural and less-desirable urban areas, well-served by programs that help their best students become the next generation of taxpayers someplace else?

I don’t have any answers, but I have some suspicions.


¹In some cases high school students take college courses on a college campus for dual credit, but typically they take courses at their high school.

² AA and AS degrees are designed for students planning to transfer credits to a four-year institution.  A third type of two-year degree (an AAS, for example) marks the conclusion of students’ vocational education prior to their entering the workforce.

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