At Advance CTE’s 2018 Spring Meeting, the organization hosted the “Critical State of CTE Research” session in response to the need for more robust CTE research.
The session began with a panel of Career Technical Education (CTE) research experts, which included Corinne Alfeld from the Institute of Education Sciences, Tom Bailey from the Community College Research Center, Shaun Dougherty from the University of Connecticut, and Andy Smarick from the American Enterprise Institute. The panel highlighted current CTE research and explored barriers and opportunities to expanding CTE research.
The panelists discussed how CTE practice is far ahead of CTE research, in large part because of the lack of capacity and data access to actually do meaningful research. The panel emphasized the importance of increasing the pipeline of CTE researchers and developing partnerships between states and researchers to actively plan out research questions. The panelists expressed a desire for access to cross-state level data to enable them to make accurate generalizations about CTE and its impact.
Some specific research issues that the panelist were interested in included the noncognitive abilities of CTE students, the earning potential associated with short-term credentials, the specific elements in high school CTE programs that make them effective and Work Colleges, which are liberal art schools that evaluate people on their work in addition to their academics.
Following the panelist discussion, an input session was held where participants broke into small groups and identified priority topics for future research efforts. From these identified topics, the following research themes emerged:
- Student outcomes, such as graduation rates, employment rates and the relationship between CTE participation and college debt;
- Evaluating the elements of a high-quality program of study;
- How to improve the quality of CTE data;
- Teacher professional development;
- Updated definitions or descriptive statistics on CTE learners; and,
- CTE’s short- and long-term return on investment.
Within these themes, a number of interesting research questions emerged. In regards to student outcomes, for example, multiple groups inquired about CTE’s impact on student debt and whether it is actually accurate to make the claim that CTE program completion is associated with less student debt. While certain programs, such as the Tech Ready Apprentices for Careers in Kentucky (TRACK) apprenticeship program, can boast that its participants transitioned into apprenticeships or employment with no student debt, it is unclear whether there is enough data to make the sweeping generalization that CTE program completion at the secondary or postsecondary level is associated with less student debt..
Participants mirrored the panelists and expressed a desire to know what distinct elements of a CTE program have the greatest impact- good or bad- on outcomes. While the defining features of a high-quality CTE program have been identified, it is unclear what elements within those features lead to positive outcomes for learners. Parsing out those elements will allow institutions to improve the quality of their CTE programs and consequently lead to better learner outcomes.
Additionally, in regards to professional development, multiple groups inquired about the best way to prepare CTE instructors to facilitate learning for students with special needs. These questions showcase the desire for CTE to be leveraged to produce positive outcomes for each learner and a recognition that targeted professional development for teachers is critical to achieving equitable outcomes.
The research themes gathered from this 2018 Spring Meeting session will be utilized to help inform future Advance CTE resources as well as potential partnerships with research organizations.
Brianna McCain, Policy Associate