Magazine article Techniques

Positive Student Attitudes toward CTE

Magazine article Techniques

Positive Student Attitudes toward CTE

Article excerpt

For nearly a century, career and technical education has been a federally funded fixture within secondary education in the United States. However, faced with the challenges of the federal No Child Left Behind mandates, and the emphasis on academics and the value of a college education, CTE finds itself in a battle for federal funding, and for its very reputation (Gray, 2004).

Of primary concern is student enrollment in CTE programs. Unlike mathematics, English and science, CTE programs are électives within the high school curriculum. If students choose not to elect CTE programs, then enrollment declines, and if that erosion continues, those affected programs are ultimately discontinued. It is therefore essential that CTE educators better understand the factors that influence students as they make curricular decisions in high school.

Previous research studies have revealed that image and perception problems have plagued the CTE community for some time. For example, Cohen and Besharov (2002) report that in many instances, CTE has had an image problem, due to the perception that it provides poor quality education for the worst students. They also note the lack of current research to ascertain how years of national, state and local efforts to improve the image of CTE might be paying off.

Other research has looked at the factors (besides perceptions) that influence students in their career choices. For example, Rossetti's 1991 study was one of the most comprehensive to look at the variety of people who tend to influence students in their decisions about CTE. However, information from this study is nearly 15 years old and may no longer be relevant given changing student demographics and cultural shifts.

Given the lack of current research on perceptions and factors that influence student decision-making, a study was recently conducted involving high school students in Michigan. Key research questions included: What are students' overall perceptions of CTE, and whom do they believe is best served by career and technical education? Who are the people that most influence students as they consider their curricular alternatives? Are there other factors that influence students' decision-making regarding CTE?

The Setting for the Study

Career and technical education is delivered in many ways throughout the state of Michigan, from comprehensive and career-technical high schools to area career-technical centers. The setting for this study was an area career-technical center, typical in many respects to other centers throughout the state. The Wexford Missaukee Area Career Technical Center (WMACTC) is located in Cadillac, Michigan, and has been serving students in the region since 1971. Students from seven local districts are currently enrolled in 13 programs available at the center (with most beginning their junior year with plans to complete a two-year program by the end of their senior year).

In this study, a survey of all high school seniors (both those attending CTE programs and those not) from the seven high schools that feed into this area center was conducted. Overall, 451 seniors responded to the survey, of which 126 were enrolled in a CTE program at the area center, and 325 were not participating in CTE programs. The survey captured the perceptions of students toward the center, as well as what people or other factors influenced their decision to attend or not to attend.


This study resulted in numerous findings of interest to the broader CTE world. These include a current profile of CTE students, as well as perceptions of CTE and non-CTE students, and factors that influenced their curriculum decisions (Gaunt, 2005). Given the length of this article, only the pieces associated with perceptions and influences will be reported.

Student Perceptions of CTE

Students were asked to identify for whom they believed the career-technical center was designed to serve. …

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