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.

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.

Guidelines help students analyze literature

screencapture from top of Guidelines for Reading and Analyzing LiteratureA useful literature resource  is Guidelines for Reading and Analyzing Literature compiled by Dr. Tina L. Hanlon, associate professor of English at Ferrum College in Virginia.

Hanlon breaks the process down into five steps, which she presents on a single web page:

  • First Impression
  • Types of Literature
  • Literary Techniques
  • Themes
  • Evaluation and Review

Hanlon uses lists and bullets to guide someone unfamiliar with literary analysis through the process.

The resource is appropriate for:

  • AP English Literature and Composition classes
  • IB programs
  • Concurrent enrollment (high school + college credit)  programs
  • College students

Dual enrollment courses: How students may benefit

I’ve been thinking about dual enrollment courses lately.

My musing was prompted partially by the Obama proposal to give high school graduates two free years of community college, partially by a new report from the Education Commission of the States, and partially by an item in my local school district newsletter about its program’s success.

Dual enrollment or concurrent courses are classes taken by high school students for which they receive both high school and college credit.

Usually the higher education institution is a community college. Less often it is either a public or private college or a proprietary school.

In most cases, the college courses are taught at the students’ home schools instead of on the colleges’ campuses.

Financial benefits for students

hs-tcs graphicIn view of the high costs of college, dual enrollment courses are an attractive option for students and their families. The post-secondary institution doesn’t charge students tuition.

Ambitious students whose home high schools offer the courses they need through concurrent enrollment can graduate high school with two years’ worth of college  credits for which they did not have to pay.

There are other savings as well. Students don’t have to pay some of the fees students enrolled for only college credit must shoulder.

They don’t live on campus, so they save on dormitory costs.

And, since in most cases the instruction is delivered on the high school campus, students save on transportation costs.

Students who graduate high school at age 18 with two years of college credits could have their bachelor’s degree at age 20 with only a fraction of the outstanding debt of those who take four years to go through college.

Academic benefits for students

The academic area is where things get murky.

Publicity materials for concurrent enrollment programs emphasize that that being able to take remedial work in the familiar environment of their home school is helpful for students with skill deficits. They make a similar argument in favor of home-school advantage for students who don’t have people in their home circle who have attended college.

It is certainly a fact that the more remediation students need at the post-secondary level the less likely they are to succeed in college. I’m not sure, however, that a remedial course at the home school will be any more beneficial than remedial course in a college classroom. (I’ve had students in my first year college composition classes who had taken remedial English on campus; they were still not ready for college composition.)

The value to be derived from of acclimating disadvantaged students to the college environment by seating them in high school classrooms also strikes me as suspect.  Even if the course in the high school setting is every bit as good as the one on the college campus, students still are not having a college experience.

Classes that meet on a less-than-daily schedule and classes that meet for longer time sessions are college features that students typically don’t experience on a high school campus.

More important is that the high school environment rarely provides the diversity of a college campus, even if the two are in the same city. The experience of working with people different from yourself is one of the key experiences of college.

The final academic question is whether the courses taught at the high schools are every bit as good as the ones on campus.

That is a tough question to answer.

Nationally, only 11 percent of academically-oriented courses and 14 percent of career-technology education courses are taught by college faculty, according to the National Center on Education Statistics. The vast majority of the concurrent enrollment courses (61 percent of academic and 67 percent of CTE courses) are taught by high school faculty.

That does not mean the high school teachers don’t know their material or are not good teachers.

It does, however, raise some questions about whether they can teach high school students at the college level.

TC3

My local school district gets its college credits through  Tompkins Cortland Community College, TC3.  Here’s how the process works, according to the TC3 website.

A local school teacher applies to the college for authorization to teach specific courses at his/her home school. The college’s website says:

Many instructors find that courses they teach, or hope to teach, can be adapted to align with TC3 courses. For example, many 12th grade Honors English teachers offer ENGL101 and even ENGL102, Regents chemistry may be aligned with CHEM101 and 102, and a government class may be adapted to meet POSC103 expectations.

If accepted—the college has a list of minimum teacher requirements for each course—teachers must follow a master template for the course. Here’s a link to the mater template for the first half of TC3 first year English, ENGL100.

TC3 requires faculty to file copies of their course outlines with the college. It also assigns faculty liaisons observations to assist concurrent faculty. (I’m assuming someone other than John Updike does the English course observations; he’s not on the TC3 staff roster.)

I’ve just touched the surface of aspects of the concurrent courses that need some more investigation.

I’ll hold that for another day.

If you’re interested in this topic, I recommend Jennifer Dounay Zinth’s 2015 report written for the Education Commission of the States: http://www.ecs.org/clearinghouse/01/17/16/11716.pdf


[corrected broken link 12-Nov-2015; corrected broken link 2016-01-22]