How the Public Sees Career Preparation — Good News and Cautionary News  

Last week, the Phi Delta Kappan organization released its annual poll results on public attitudes about public schools.  There is good news and some cautionary news about public perception toward career-focused classes.   You can see an executive summary and download the findings here.

The good news is that the public strongly supports offering career-focused classes in public high schools, particularly in the engineering and technology fields.  Results showed 86 percent of survey participants said they favor such classes, and 60 percent feel very strongly about this.  Over 50 percent of participants say they want MORE career-focused classes in their local schools, and about 30 percent feel the amount they currently have is about right.

What gives me pause, however, is that there still seems to be a difference in perception about career classes by parents, based on what they expect their child to do immediately after high school.  For those parents who expect their child to enroll as a full-time college student, 52 percent support MORE career preparation classes.  But for parents who think their child will work full time after high school or go to college part time while working, 62 percent want to see MORE career preparation classes offered.

This tells me that all parents, whatever they expect their child’s next step in life to be, see career-focused classes as mostly about preparation for a job after high school.  If the public only sees career classes as about immediate job preparation, I think they are missing the deeper value of career–focused programs.

Since most parents want and expect their child to enroll in postsecondary education of some sort after high school, I suggest that we more strongly emphasize the role of career development as critical for every child, and then explain how career-focused classes are a critical part of career development.

We should ask, “How can you actually explore a career field without some sort of hands-on experience with it?”  That’s why career classes are so important.  Career classes are valuable in testing out and further developing their career interests.  Then, as they know what they like and what they’re good at, students will make smarter decisions about what kind of postsecondary education to pursue.   That’s a case for career classes that makes them relevant to all students, not just the ones who need to work immediately after high school.

Of course, career classes also provide an added benefit of giving youth a leg up in the job market if they need to work immediately after high school.

On this note, the national CTE leadership organization, Advance CTE, recently published some research that sheds light on how to promote CTE to an array of parents and students.  You can watch a webinar describing the findings of the research here.  I’ll talk more about these findings in next week’s post.

The public is definitely on the side of career preparation classes.  Let’s make sure they understand the value these programs hold for ALL students.

Hans Meeder is 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.

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