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5 Myths About Career and Technical Education

Posted Thursday, Jan 27, 2022 by Altierus

February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) Awareness Month. As a CTE provider, we here at Altierus Career College are aware that while many people understand the valuable role CTE plays in building a skilled workforce, there are still plenty of inaccurate ideas about CTE out there. We’d like to set the record straight about who participates in CTE, the career paths graduates prepare for, and how CTE contributes to the wide economy. Here are a few of the most common myths about CTE.

CTE Is for People Who Struggle Academically

One myth about CTE is that it is for people with poor academic aptitude. This isn’t true. The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) reports that 93% of high school students who focus on CTE classes graduate, compared to 86% of high school students overall.[1] The DOE also reports that CTE-focused students were just as likely to have earned a college-level qualification after high school as students who did not focus on CTE.[2]

You may also hear that CTE is for people who “can’t handle college”. At the post-secondary level, CTE is college. Students in all our programs master college-level knowledge that is focused on their chosen career field. Also, our surgical technology and nursing students earn college degrees. CTE is not a “plan B” option. It has its own specific focus—training people to fill skilled occupations—and does it by focusing on practical skills and essential theoretical concepts.

CTE Careers Are Low-Skill

Another myth about CTE is that it prepares people for “low-skill” careers. This could not be further from the truth, as any of our graduates could tell you. CTE graduates use science, mathematics and technology to perform essential work—from repairing industrial machinery power sources to stitching patient wounds. A 2013 study by the Brookings Institution found that half of all STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) jobs did not require a four-year college degree. Many of those jobs were in healthcare, construction, and other skilled trades.[3]

Many of the jobs CTE graduates prepare for also require certification or licensure from a state or professional body after earning a qualification. In fact, 2016 data from the National Center for Education Statistics found that 30% of associate degree graduates held a licensure or certificate, compared to 27% of bachelor’s degree graduates.[4]

CTE Careers Are Low-Wage

CTE program graduates often earn more than the national average salary. The Brookings Institution study determined that the average salary in 2013 for STEM careers that did not require a four-year degree was $53,000 per year[5]. As of 2019—the last year for which statistics unaffected by the pandemic are available—the median salary for all workers in the U.S. was $48,516.[6]

More recently, in “Does Career Technical Education Pay?”, a 2019 report by a group working at the University of California at Davis, analysis of California CTE students determined that earning a CTE qualification after high school raised all graduates’ pay. This boost in earnings varied by field of study and program length. Some findings included:

While salary varies by employer and job market, the evidence is that CTE supports stronger earning potential for graduates than for those without qualifications.

CTE Is Mostly for Male-Dominated Jobs

A few decades ago, it might have been accurate to say that CTE classes are dominated by male students. Today, the story is different. According to the DOE, of the 3,539,930 students enrolled in post-secondary CTE programs in 2018-19 (the most recent year for which statistics are available), 1,866,044, or 52.7%, were women.[8]

Gender gaps do persist by subject. In 2018-2019, DOE data shows that 407,780 women were enrolled in postsecondary healthcare CTE programs, compared to just 92,193 men.[9] Conversely, 118,263 men were enrolled in postsecondary information technology programs that year, compared to 34,507 women.[10] Efforts to help balance out these inequities are underway. At the federal level, the Perkins Act has “states accountable for increasing participation and completion rates of students in CTE courses that are non-traditional for their gender” since 2006.[11]

CTE Is Only for Manufacturing and Trades

Finally, many people have assumed that CTE focuses mostly on construction and manufacturing trades. According to Advance CTE, an association of state CTE officials, CTE covers 16 separate career clusters:

CTE affects virtually every major industry and helps build paths to stable careers for millions of people every year. Altierus Career College is proud to be a CTE provider. Learn more about our programs by visiting www.altierus.edu today!


[1] https://www2.ed.gov/datastory/cte/index.html#WHOGRADUATESFINDSAJOB

[2] https://www2.ed.gov/datastory/cte/index.html#WHOGRADUATESFINDSAJOB

[3] https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/thehiddenstemeconomy610.pdf

[4] https://nces.ed.gov/blogs/nces/?tag=/CTE

[5] https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/thehiddenstemeconomy610.pdf

[6] https://www.thestreet.com/personal-finance/average-income-in-us-14852178#:~:text=Using%20information%20from%20the%20fourth,increase%20on%20the%20previous%20year.

[7] https://econofact.org/does-career-technical-education-pay

[8] Report for 2018-2019 generated at https://perkins.ed.gov/pims/DataExplorer/CTEParticipant, data for all postsecondary students in all states

[9] Report for 2018-2019 generated at https://perkins.ed.gov/pims/DataExplorer/CTEConcentrator, data for all postsecondary students by gender and career cluster

[10] Report for 2018-2019 generated at https://perkins.ed.gov/pims/DataExplorer/CTEConcentrator, data for all postsecondary students by gender and career cluster

[11] https://www.nwlc.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/ncwge_report_on_gender_gap_in_career_preparation.pdf, p. 3

[12] https://careertech.org/career-clusters