When Todd County School District received a $103,000 grant in 2014 under Governor Dennis Daugaard’s South Dakota Future Fund, the rural South Dakota district put the money to use, administering a survey of local business leaders to identify the career pathways that were most in need in the community. With the information collected through the survey, Todd County School District updated and aligned Career Technical Education (CTE) curriculum to better reflect employer needs.
Targeted investments like Gov. Daugaard’s fund, which has since evolved into South Dakota’s Workforce Education Grant program, provide a catalyst for rural districts and institutions to improve CTE program quality and ensure career pathways are aligned with labor market needs and student interest.
Improving CTE quality in rural communities is an imperative for all states, yet rural CTE programs often face unique challenges that are not present in more densely populated areas. For example, decentralization, lack of resources and more limited employer relationships in rural communities can result in the preservation of legacy programs over more industry-relevant career pathways. Decisions about what programs to offer are too often driven by the availability of equipment or facilities, teacher supply and even tradition.
To help states improve the quality of rural CTE, Advance CTE today released the first in a series of briefs titled CTE on the Frontier: Catalyzing Local Efforts to Improve Program Quality. The brief explores state strategies to improve the quality of local CTE programs to ensure they meet industry needs and expand opportunities for rural learners, drawing on promising practices from the states:
- In Nebraska, the reVISION initiative has helped bring together education and business leaders in 87 districts since 2012. Through the initiative, state officials provide local leaders with labor market information to help develop strategic action plans and design CTE programs that are aligned to regional labor market needs.
- South Dakota’s Workforce Education Grant program distributes competitive funds to support CTE programs in rural districts. Through the 18-month grant period, the South Dakota Department of Education provides technical assistance and coaching to help local grant recipients maximize the use of funds.
- A program alignment initiative in Idaho has helped link secondary and postsecondary programs through statewide articulation agreements and technical skills assessments. Officials from the Division of Career & Technical Education regularly convene secondary and postsecondary educators to examine student learning expectations and ensure learners are set up for success when they transition to college, no matter where they come from
- Meanwhile, Mississippi’s Community College Board employs a program approval process that requires all postsecondary programs to justify employer need and student demand before they are approved. Further, postsecondary CTE curricula are developed by the Board, ensuring that all learners, particularly those in rural communities, can access the same high quality, industry-aligned content.
These examples demonstrate different approaches state leaders can take to empower local leaders and support program improvement in rural areas. Future briefs in the CTE on the Frontier series will tackle other common challenges, including learner access to the world of work, employing strategic partnerships to increase program offerings and strengthening the rural CTE teacher pipeline.
CTE on the Frontier: Catalyzing Local Efforts to Improve Program Quality was developed through the New Skills for Youth initiative, a partnership of the Council of Chief State School Officers, Advance CTE and the Education Strategy Group, generously funded by JPMorgan Chase & Co.
Austin Estes, Policy Associate