How to Tune Your Message about Pathways to the Needs of Students and Parents

I mentioned in my last post that Advance CTE, the national organization representing state leaders involved in Career Technical Education (CTE), conducted some intriguing research on the attitudes and perceptions of parents and students toward CTE.  The findings are relevant both to teachers and leaders working in the CTE field, as well as leaders advocating for a broader approach to education that values pathways and career-connected learning.

Don’t Pit College Against CTE

For me, one of the biggest ‘light-bulb moments’ from the research was discovering that parents and students see both CTE and college aspirations as positive and intertwined.

Many of us who advocate for career-connected learning have been frustrated by what we dub the “university-for-all” mindset among parents and policymakers.

In our work, we can tend to be publicly dismissive about college or university four-year degrees because we feel there is an unfair bias against careers that require less than a four year degree, and the fact that there are many very good technical careers that are under-supplied.

But the current reality is, most parents want what they think is best for their children, and for 87% of parents, they define that as “getting a college degree.”   So the question is – do we try to change their mind on this, or do we try to leverage their desire into an understanding of the benefits of CTE and career-connected learning?

I’m coming to the opinion that we in the career-connected learning world need to firmly embrace the desire of parents for their children to go far and be successful.   If they define that as “getting a college degree,” I’m not going to fight it.  And I don’t want to inadvertently pit their aspirations of attending college against the value of participating in CTE.

Instead, I think we should portray CTE programs as an excellent means to pursue “college”, while explaining that postsecondary education can take on many forms and means.   We should also point to evidence from Arkansas that CTE students there are just as likely to pursue four-year degrees as other students[i], and from Massachusetts that over 50% of CTE students pursue post-secondary education[ii].

Participation in CTE enhances the high school education, and actually promotes higher levels of postsecondary education for many students that might have stayed put after high school.

The Importance of Career Fit

The second big finding that struck me about today’s students and parents is how important it is that each student finds a career that they feel passionate about.

93% of parents agreed/strongly agreed that “finding a career that I feel/my child feels passionate about is important to me.”  92% percent of students also agreed/strongly agreed with this statement.

What’s interesting is that career passion is actually more important to them than having a “job that pays well” or “getting a college degree.”

In this pursuit of career passion, CTE programs have incredible value to offer.  For students who already know where their true career interest lies, they can get an excellent head start on learning the skills, knowledge and career-path opportunities within that career area, as well as what kind of postsecondary education will help enhance their prospects.

Also, for students who aren’t really sure, CTE programs are an important means of deeper career exploration to secure a better postsecondary education choice and find that fit for that first career path after college.

In summing it all up, Advance CTE recommends the idea of “message discipline,” focusing on a three-pronged explanation of the value of CTE.

“CTE Delivers Real Options for Students for College and Rewarding Careers.”

“CTE Delivers Real-World Skills for Students.”

“CTE Delivers a Real High School Experience with More Value for Students.”

You can read the full report from Advance CTE here:

You can also check out the Advance CTE Resource Center here:

I hope these findings help you fine-tune your messaging and reach more students and parents with the value of CTE and career-connected learning!

[i] Dougherty, S., (2016), Career and Technical Education in High School: Does It Improve Student Outcomes?, June 2016, The Fordham Institute, Washington, DC.  Retrieved from
[ii] Fraser, A. (2008), Vocational Technical Education in Massachusetts, October 2008, No. 42, Pioneer Institute Public Policy Research, Boston, Massachusetts.  Retrieved from

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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