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What Does CTE Stand For In School?

Jill Caren
By Jill Caren
Updated December 17th, 2023

CTE is an acronym that stands for Career and Technical Education. CTE programs offer career skills training in a variety of fields to help students better prepare for the workforce or college.

Career and technical education used to be considered vocational courses in things like carpentry or automotive.

But that is no longer the case.

CTE programs are now often called college and career readiness programs. These programs are not just for technical education anymore and are offered in a variety of fields like law, business, and even sciences.

Whether you are trying to decide between trade school or college, a CTE program might help with that decision! Many of these classes are a combination of classroom instruction with a mix of hands-on training or sometimes even internships or apprenticeships.

The sole purpose of these programs is to help high-school students be more ready for the future, whether they choose to go into a vocational training program or college.

Career and Technical Education Programs By Age

School districts across the country are investing in these programs and while most are geared toward high-school students, some are bringing in classes at the elementary school level as well.

Below is a bit of information about the benefits of CTE programs at the various school levels.

Elementary School CTE Programs

CTE courses at the elementary school level can offer an introduction to different careers and skills needed to be successful not only in work but in life. This is a great time to help children get excited about their future plans and help them learn more about their likes and dislikes.

For children who may not lack strong academic skills, it is a great time for them to explore alternative careers that are less academically inclined. Their true potential may lie in the arts, or in a vocational career like woodworking or phlebotomy.

The goal would be to find something that students can connect with that utilizes their unique skills and aptitude.

Middle School CTE Programs

It is during these years that kids might start really giving thought to their future careers. This is also the reason that elementary-level career exploration is so important.

Middle schools around the country are focusing on collage and career readiness education that allow students to take courses in a particular area of study. At this age, these courses can include more life skills that will help them in the working world.

Learning skills like how to be more agreeable, conscientious, and extraverted (confident) can set kids apart when it comes time to land that first job. Skills like these are not often learned in a traditional school environment.

High School CTE Programs

High school is the most common time kids are introduced to career and technical education programs. With their graduation closer than they think, this is the most critical time for them to have these experiences.

CTE programs in high school can help kids explore a variety of careers from health sciences to business or law. Some schools may also offer programs in the trades like automotive mechanics or welding.

Often these courses might be for the duration of their high-school experience, but in some school districts, it might be a 1 or 2-year program. These programs are a great way for kids to experience a career before committing to post-secondary education in it.

Many high schools also offer Career and Technical Student Organizations (CTSOs). These are groups specific to careers that students participate in to further improve their career readiness. Many of these organizations have competitions, guest speakers, and more to inspire and educate students.

Some of the more popular CTSOs include:

  • DECA is for those interested in finance, marketing, or management.
  • FBLA is for those looking to become leaders in business or government.
  • SkillsUSA is for students interested in the skilled trades.
  • FFA is for agricultural interests.

There are many benefits to becoming a part of a CTO including higher grade point averages, improved employability, and more.

Benefits Of Career and Technical Education (CTE) Programs

There are many benefits to taking CTE classes in school. Students who take these often have a better chance of getting a job after graduation, and they often earn more money than their peers.

Career Path Exploration

One of the main benefits of CTE classes is that students can learn about potential career paths. By taking CTE classes, students can explore a variety of careers and figure out which ones might be a good fit for them and where their true passion might be.

They can also learn about the skills and knowledge they need to pursue these careers. This can be helpful when it comes time to choose a career after high school.

Prepare For Life After High School

CTE classes can also help students prepare for college or for quick entry into the workforce.

Many CTE classes offer the opportunity to earn college credit, which can save students time and money on their education. Additionally, CTE classes often teach important skills that are useful in college and beyond. These skills can include critical thinking, teamwork, and communication.

Save Money On Secondary Education

This is a great benefit of CTE classes! College can be expensive, so being able to earn college credit while still in high school can save students a lot of money. Additionally, college credits earned through CTE classes often count towards degree requirements, which can help students graduate faster.

Higher Graduation Rates

One of the main benefits of CTE classes is that students can often graduate at a higher rate than their peers. This is because CTE classes offer a variety of hands-on learning opportunities that can help students develop important skills. Additionally, CTE classes often prepare students for college, which can make it easier for them to graduate.

It has also been shown to improve the dropout rates of at-risk students. (Op. Cite, University of Memphis, 2004)

Increase Job Opportunities

One of the main benefits of CTE classes is that they offer students real-world experience and skills that are useful in the workforce. CTE classes often teach students how to think critically and work collaboratively, which are important skills in the workplace.

Additionally, many CTE classes offer the opportunity to earn college credit, which can make it easier for students to find a job after graduation.

Fields CTE Programs Are Available In

There are many industry sectors of CTE programs, including the following:

  • -Business and finance
  • -Healthcare
  • -Hospitality and tourism
  • -Information technology
  • -Law and public safety
  • -Manufacturing
  • -Media and communications
  • -Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)
  • -Transportation and logistics

Of course, there are still opportunities for CTE programs in fields like HVAC/R, automotive, construction, and more as well depending on location.

Parent Recommendations

As a mom, I had no idea CTE programs existed in my local school district, and rarely will you hear about these programs unless you ask.

I found out about them late in the game, but thankfully early enough for her to apply. In our school district you needed to test into the CTE programs to be accepted.

Some of the programs in our area were Marine Sciences, Law, Business, and even an Arts academy. My daughter attended the business program where she was able to learn how to create a business plan, how to speak publicly, and even learned Micro/Macro Economics.

It prepared her for college – and gave her a better understanding of the financial system, and so much more.

Unfortunately, in our school district we do not have a lot of skilled trade opportunities – college is the focus.

We are working on changing that!

So, if you are a parent, you should talk to your local school district about opportunities for CTE Programs for your child.

I would get the information while your child is in elementary school so you are well prepared for the steps that might be needed to get into a CTE program.

Jill Caren is an international SEO consultant and founder of 2Dogs Media. She is also a trainer, journalist, and speaker who helps brands increase their organic search visibility, traffic, and conversions. She is also the co-founder of Blue Collar Brain, a resource for those looking to enter a trade career.

She has been featured on MSN, Wealth of Geeks, Hubspot, SEO Powersuite, and other publications for her work as an SEO and advocate for skilled trades.