Attracting New Students to CTE and Pathways Programs

I think that I speak for all my NC3T colleagues when I say that I’m still catching my breath after last week’s ACTE VISION conference – it was a wonderful experience (as always), and we stayed very busy with our booth in the expo, participation in pre-meetings and pre-con workshops, and hosting and attending a number of breakout sessions. I’m already looking forward to next year’s meeting in Anaheim.

Before the conference officially started, I participated in two different industry forums. The first was the Workforce Development through CTE Summit, in which representatives from multiple trade associations joined to talk about how they could work together to address their workforce development challenges. The second was hosted by NCCER and focused more specifically on meeting workforce needs in the construction industry. (I moderated the first, sat on a panel for the second.)

In both cases, one of the most prominent questions was: With such a strong push for four-year college, how do we expose students to CTE and get them interested in exploring the tremendous opportunities available to them? To be clear, there are a large number of people doing great work on this front, but the fact remains that a lot of students – the majority of whom will one day enter the workforce – have no idea what CTE is or how it can help them prepare for their futures.

The answer that resonated most with me: Put students to work in visible ways.

For students already in CTE or a Pathways program, let them do real-world work that will be visible to their fellow students and to the community. Construction students can build everything from trophy cases to homes, all of which can be highly visible to their fellow students. Have your agriculture students grow flowers that are used to improve the atmosphere of the school or at least special events, or ask your culinary program to run a small café or cater community events. Have your IT students perform tech support for students and the community. It just takes a little creativity, and the work that students do will not only provide students with great experiences, but their work will serve as the best advertisement you could ever run.

For prospective students, don’t be just another adult talking at them – they’ll tune you out. Instead, give them an opportunity to do something firsthand. Offer a tour of your program and have activities set up for them to do. Run a challenge, and let current students act as project mentors. Get them moving and doing, and they’ll see firsthand what you offer, and how enticing it is to them based on their interests.

CTE/Pathways students are creatures of action – use that to your advantage to build community and student support!

Brett Pawlowski is Executive Vice President of NC3T, the National Center for College and Career Transitions ( NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance and tools to help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.

3 thoughts on “Attracting New Students to CTE and Pathways Programs

  1. Steve Schneider says:

    One of the more exciting ideas that is gaining traction in our community revolves around the idea of “sub-contracting” our students to do real projects for local employers. This could be anything from creating pamphlets and flyers for HR departments, helping develop a webpage, creating a CAD drawing of a facility, working with a R & D group to provide a “youthful” perspective, or developing an interactive database. One of our local industry partners made a comment about that “bottom 10%” of stuff she has on her to-do pile that she never seems to be able to get to, and that those may be perfect for this kind of arrangement. These would be short-term, paid opportunities (anywhere from 5 hours to 20 hours). These kinds of projects could appeal to any student who has the skills necessary to complete the task. Our teachers (of any subject, which is also part of the appeal) could also view the menu of available opportunities and attach what they are teaching to these real-world applications. So, for example, an English teacher could encourage students to apply for any of the tasks that would involve writing. A Graphic Arts teacher could encourage students to apply for positions involving the creation of marketing materials. A Math teacher could encourage students to pursue opportunities that may involve an accounting task. The possibilities are very exciting. We’ve just begun to figure out how to pull it all together, but it seems to initially be capturing the attention of our employers. It would also fill a need for impactful, but short-term opportunities for our students. They are extremely busy young people, so large commitments like Youth Apprenticeships or part-time jobs sometimes require too much time. These sub-contracted jobs could be a great option for our busiest students.

  2. Lisa Stange says:

    The Hospitality Cluster is the foundation for student work in running a café or catering community events. This cluster includes those technical competencies, knowledge and skills that are required for work in these industries and are a part of the Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) discipline of study. You can access the FCS framework that clarifies the role of the FCS discipline here:

  3. Gayla Randel says:

    Encouraging our CTE programs to have community “visibility” is very important as it can promote CTE, but also be a great teaching strategy. (And advisory committee members can have a role to play in spreading the word to parents and the community in general too.) CTE programs at the local level will have more flexibility to be “seen” and each state will look at this differently, but let me share a few examples. My Culinary Food, and Nutrition class ran a catering business out of my Family and Consumer Sciences classroom to provide an authentic hospitality work-based experience that was very well received by the community. This FCS pathway held the competencies to teach the students food safety, food production, quantity cooking, and food science/nutrition components that would not have been possible without this program alignment. Whereas other CTE programs grew food (AG/Science) , it was the FCS program that made it servable while also meeting CTE pathway competencies…that is key! And CTE programs can collaborate. In another school, the AG program grew tomatoes and peppers in their green house, the FCS department developed a salsa recipe and canned it, the Business program did the marketing and sales and printed the labels with the nutritional information the FCS program developed. It was even a “Made in the USA” product since the Ag program grew ingredients! It was a win-win for everyone as their part was aligned to their pathway competencies AND the community could “see” CTE in action!

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