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In recent years, “get a college education” seems to be the advice given to all young people, and for good reason. Over the past twenty years, the earnings of young adults with a bachelor’s degree increased greatly relative to those with only a high school diploma or its equivalent. Yet, many young people do not go to college, and others enroll but later drop out. Many of these young people may be unsuited for college: by ability, temperament, or interest. And most jobs--including some very good ones--do not require a college degree. For some young people, career and technical education (CTE) might provide a better route to a good job. CTE might even give them a reason to stay in high school and thereby increase the chances that they will eventually get to college.
Many people, however, oppose CTE because they fear it discourages young people from going on to postsecondary education and thus threatens to hold them back from achieving their full potential. Opponents also cite the history of poor and obsolete CTE programs that became a dumping ground for less able students. We believe that these concerns are valid, but we also think that instead of abandoning CTE programs, we should be trying to improve, upgrade, and modernize them.
The federal government could potentially play an important role in the effort to promote CTE by sponsoring high-quality research, disseminating the results of this research, developing curricula and other materials to be used by schools nationwide, and providing technical assistance to states and localities.