Career and Technical Education


MODULE GOAL: To learn about postsecondary opportunities to develop workforce knowledge and skills through participation in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs at the postsecondary level.


  1. To discuss the need for Career and Technical Education (CTE).
  2. To define the term career cluster.
  3. To identify the 16 career clusters.
  4. To identify some typical occupations under each of the 16 career clusters.
  5. To identify the largest CTE programs of study at the postsecondary level.
  6. To discuss how an individual gets ready for participation in postsecondary education.
  7. To identify where Career and Technical Education programs are offered.
  8. To identify the important questions that should be answered before choosing a Career and Technical Education program in a specific institution.


The United States is increasingly facing a serious gap of skilled workers. The need to get additional people in and through postsecondary education and training has never been more critical. While past generations could find employment with only a high school diploma or on-the-job training, it is now vital to career success for individuals to have training and education beyond the high school level.

While there is job growth in the low-skilled service sectors, many of the newest and highest paying jobs are in occupations that have postsecondary skill requirements. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the projected job openings for 2014 indicate that 24 of the 30 fastest growing occupations are among those for which the most significant source of postsecondary education and training is necessary (Hecker, November 2005).


Several questions are important when thinking about Career and Technical Education.

These are:

  1. What is Career and Technical Education?
  2. How is Career and Technical Education helpful to students with disabilities?
  3. What are career clusters?
  4. What are the 16 career clusters?
  5. What are the most popular postsecondary CTE programs in terms of enrollment?
  6. What is an Associate in Science (AS) or Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degree?
  7. What can you do now to get ready for participation in postsecondary education?
  8. Where is Career and Technical Education offered?
  9. Is Career and Technical Education only for students who are not college bound?
  10. How many Career and Technical Education programs are there in the United States?
  11. Is there a compiled list of leading Career and Technical Education programs?
  12. What important questions should be answered before choosing a CTE program in a specific institution?
  13. Is there any proof that Career and Technical Education works?

What is Career and Technical Education?

Career and Technical Education (CTE) is the general term used in this module. At the postsecondary level the terms-industry and technology, business, professional and careers, workforce education, workforce development, applied sciences or similar terms are used. The common feature that almost all CTE programs have is that they award a certificate, an Associate in Science (AS) degree, or an Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degree.

Career and Technical Education (CTE) helps to prepare adults for a wide range of careers. These careers may require varying levels of education-from high school and postsecondary certificates to two and four-year college degrees.

Career and Technical Education is about helping students, workers and lifelong learners of all ages fulfill their career potential. It is about high school and postsecondary education that provides students with: 

  • academic subject matter taught with relevance to the real world

  • employability skills, from job-related skills to workplace ethics

  • education pathways that help students explore interests and careers in the process of progressing through school to a career

  • second-chance education and training for the unemployed and those seeking to upgrade their employability skills

  • education to earn additional degrees, especially when related to career advancement

  • corporate training, continuing education, skills upgrades and refresher courses for those already in the workplace.

Career and Technical Education provides programming for occupations that require extended training rather than short-term on-the-job training.

How is Career and Technical Education helpful to students with disabilities?

Career and Technical Education programs are designed for all students. Graduates are expected to be ready for employment or for postsecondary education in their fields of study. The curriculum in CTE programs is based on national industry recognized knowledge and skills needed for employment and retention.

What are career clusters?

Career and Technical Education covers a variety of challenging fields in diverse subject areas which are constantly evolving due to the changing global economy.

All of the career and technical programs can be grouped into 16 career clusters. Career clusters are groupings of occupations, entry level through management, sharing common functions and activities and requiring similar core knowledge and skills.

Career clusters expose students to many different facets of the work that schools are doing to increase student achievement and better prepare students for transition from high school to postsecondary education and the workplace. The cluster model identifies knowledge and skills that are needed in the workplace. This knowledge and these skills can be tied to standards and curriculum to better prepare students. By providing the links between school and the workplace, students can see the relevancy of what they are learning. Career exploration within the cluster structure allows students to match their interests, skills, and education requirements with possible careers.

Career clusters provide a way for schools to organize instruction and student experiences around 16 broad categories that encompass virtually all occupations from entry through professional levels.

What are the 16 career clusters?

There are sixteen career clusters. The list below provides a brief description as a sample of each cluster and some possible occupations in each of the clusters:

Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources: Processing, production, distribution, financing, and development of agricultural commodities and natural resources

Possible Occupations:

  1. Farmer
  2. Pest Control Worker
  3. Forest and Conservation Technician
  4. Veterinarian

Architecture & Construction: Designing, managing, building, and maintaining the built environment Possible Occupations:

  1. Carpenter
  2. HVAC Mechanic and Installer
  3. Architectural Drafter
  4. Civil Engineer

Arts, A/V Technology & Communications: Creating, exhibiting, performing, and publishing multimedia content

Possible Occupations:

  1. Video Systems Technician
  2. Printing Equipment Operator
  3. Graphic Designer
  4. Curator
  5. Museum Technician

Business, Management & Administration: Organizing, directing, and evaluating functions essential to productive business operations

Possible Occupations:

  1. Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerk
  2. Chief Executive Officer
  3. Public Relations Specialist
  4. Human Resources Manager

Education and Training: Providing education and training services, and related learning support services

Possible Occupations:

  1. Teacher Assistant
  2. Preschool, Middle School, and Secondary School Teacher
  3. Special Education Teacher
  4. Education Administrator

Finance: Financial and investment planning, banking, insurance, and business financial management

Possible Occupations:

  1. Teller
  2. Personal Finance Advisor
  3. Insurance Sales Agent
  4. Financial Manager

Government & Public Administration: Executing governmental functions at the local, state and federal levels

Possible Occupations:

  1. Postal Service Mail Carrier
  2. Emergency Management Specialist
  3. Tax Examiner, Collector, and Revenue Agent
  4. Urban and Regional Planner

Health Science: Providing diagnostic and therapeutic services, health informatics, support services, and biotechnology research and development

Possible Occupations:

  1. Physician
  2. Registered Nurse
  3. Emergency Medical Technician and Paramedic
  4. Speech-Language Pathologist

Hospitality & Tourism: Managing restaurants and other food services, lodging, attractions, recreation events, and travel-related services

Possible Occupations:

  1. Lodging Manager
  2. Baker
  3. Travel Agent
  4. Food Service Manager

Human Services: Providing for families and serving human needs

Possible Occupations:

  1. Child, Family, and School Social Worker
  2. Rehabilitation Counselor
  3. Director, Child Care Facility
  4. Cosmetologist/Barber

Information Technology: Designing, supporting, and managing hardware, software, multimedia, and systems integration

Possible Occupations:

  1. Computer Support Specialist
  2. Network Systems Administrator
  3. Computer Programmer
  4. Applications Software Engineer

Law, Public Safety, Corrections, & Security: Providing legal, public safety, protective and homeland security services

Possible Occupations:

  1. Private Detective and Investigator
  2. Probation Officer and Correctional Treatment Specialist
  3. Police Officer
  4. Lawyer
  5. Judge

Manufacturing: Processing materials into intermediate or final products

Possible Occupations:

  1. Machinist
  2. Welder, Cutter, Solderer, and Brazier
  3. Electrical and Electronic Engineering Technician
  4. Industrial Production Manager

Marketing, Sales & Service: Performing marketing activities to reach organizational objectives

Possible Occupations:

  1. Telemarketer
  2. Real Estate Agent
  3. Wholesale and Retail Buyer
  4. Advertising and Promotions Manager

Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics: Performing scientific research and professional and technical services

Possible Occupations:

  1. Surveying and Mapping Technician
  2. Avionics Technician
  3. Nuclear Engineer
  4. Mathematician

Transportation, Distribution & Logistics: Managing movement of people, materials, and goods by road, pipeline, air, rail, and water

Possible Occupations:

  1. Materials Handler
  2. Bus Driver
  3. Air Traffic Controller
  4. Automobile Service Technician

What are the most popular postsecondary CTE programs in terms of enrollment?

The largest programs of study at the postsecondary level, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (2004) are identified below according to the length of time to complete the program:

  1. Programs requiring less than 1 year of postsecondary education:
    • Medical Assistant
    • Patient Care Assistant
    • Truck Driver
    • EMT Paramedic
    • Massage Therapist
    • Cosmetologist
    • Police Officer
    • Child Care Specialist
    • Administrative Assistant
    • j. Dental Assistant
  2. Programs requiring at least 1 but less than 2 years of postsecondary education:
    • Cosmetologist
    • Licensed (Practical) Nurse
    • Medical Assistant
    • Automobile Mechanic
    • HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning) Technician
    • Dental Assistant
    • Massage Therapist
    • Surgical Technologist
    • Welder
  3. Programs requiring at least an Associate in Science (AS) or Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degree:
    • Registered Nurse
    • Business Administrator
    • Electronic Technician
    • Chef
    • Information Technologist
    • Medical Assistant
    • Legal Assistance/Paralegal
    • Dental Hygienist
    • Police Officer
    • Radiation Therapist
  4. Programs requiring at least 2 but less than 4 years of postsecondary education:
    • Licensed Nurse
    • Airframe Maintenance Technician
    • Radiation Therapist
    • Electrician
    • Data Processing Technician
    • Aircraft Powerplant Technician
    • Avionics Maintenance Technician

What is an Associate in Science (AS) or Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degree?

An AS or AAS degree is offered at the postsecondary level and represents Career and Technical Education below a four-year degree level. These degrees in the technologies take two (2) forms:

  1. Associate in Science (AS) degree focuses on technology training in such areas as:
    • Architectural Science
    • Automatic Control Chemical Engineering Technology
    • Biomedical Technology
    • Chemical Engineering Technology
    • Computer Engineering Technology, Computer Science, or Computer Networking
    • Construction Technology
    • Electrical Technology
    • Electronics Engineering Technology
    • Environmental Systems Engineering Technology
    • Industrial Engineering Technology
    • Laser Engineering Technology
    • Manufacturing Technology
    • Mechanical Engineering Technology
    • Plastic/Polymer Technology
    • Surveying
    • Telecommunications Systems (Gray, 2000)
  2.  Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degree is typically offered in areas not associated with engineering, such as the health fields and food service. AAS degrees typically are hands-on and require less advanced mathematics and science than an AS degree. Examples of AAS degree programs include:
    • Computer Technologies
    • Business Program Emphasis
    • Microcomputer Specialist
    • Allied Health
    • Cardiovascular Technology
    • Dental Hygiene
    • Surgical Technology
    • Hospitality Management
    • Baking & Pastry Arts
    • Culinary Arts
    • Food & Hospitality Management
    • Industrial/Manufacturing Technology
    • Quality Assurance Technology
    • Toolmaking Technology
    • Welding Technology
    • Wood Products Technology
    • Transportation
    • Aviation Technology
    • Diesel Technology (Gray, 2000)

What can you do now to get ready for participation in postsecondary education?

Career preparation occurs in stages. The sooner students start thinking about, researching, and preparing for their career, the better. Agreements among high schools, community colleges and universities provide the mobility that students need to easily continue career preparation after high school. These agreements, called articulation agreements, establish that curricula at different levels are aligned so that students are not asked to repeat material they have already learned at a lower level.

Articulation agreements also set up formal connections linking programs at different levels. These include options such as:

  1. College credit for high school courses taken as part of a career pathways curriculum
  2. Dual enrollment in high school and college in which some courses are taken in high school and some in college
  3. Course-by-course agreements establishing a menu of equivalent courses at different institutions
  4. Acceptance by higher-level institutions of career portfolios and certificates of skill mastery instead of traditional academic testing (Pennsylvania Bureau of Career and Technical Education, 2006).

Career and Technical Education programs, particularly those within community colleges, present a transition option for students with disabilities who may wish to seek a certificate (e.g., medical technology, computer graphics) or an Associate's degree as an intermediate step between high school and a four-year bachelor's program.

For students who may not have completed high school, many community colleges will accept a General Education Diploma (GED) or less, if students are willing to pay the tuition fees and complete the GED requirements. Additionally, if licensed through the state and accredited by a U.S. Department of Education authorized accreditation agency, these programs are covered by federal financial aid (Pell Grants, Stafford Loans, etc.) and are offered at a wide variety of institutions, thus providing individuals with multiple program choices (Nimon, 2006).

Where is Career and Technical Education offered?

The type of institutions that offer CTE programs include public community colleges, private not-for-profit institutions, workforce development programs at community-based organizations, and private for-profit institutions.

Before you make your selection of a CTE program, gather as much information as you can about the institution. Public community colleges generally have the least expensive tuition costs. Private not-for-profit institutions can be expensive, but generally have an excellent reputation, which is important for job placement. Workforce development programs at community-based organizations can be no cost or low cost but do not enjoy the broad spectrum of offerings that you might find at a community college. Private for-profit institutions are generally expensive, but the ones with good reputations have high job placement rates. A note of caution: some private for-profit institutions are expensive and yet have low job placement rates.

Whatever institution you select, a good measure of the quality is the accreditation and whether or not their credits can be transferred to a regular public four-year institution. Before enrolling in a CTE program, consider these important items:

  1. Determine if you need additional training or education to get the job you want.
  2. Determine the criteria required to complete the program and to graduate.
  3. Find out as much as you can about the school's facilities, equipment, computers, etc.
  4. Ask about the instructor's qualifications and the size of classes
  5. Ask about graduation and job placement numbers.
  6. Find out how much the program is going to cost (tuition, books, equipment, uniforms, lab fees, etc.).

Is Career and Technical Education only for students who are not college bound?

No. Career and Technical Education can provide a foundation of skills that enables high school graduates to begin fully employed-either full-time or while in college. Nearly two-thirds of all high school graduates of career and technical programs enter some type of postsecondary program.

Rigorous academic content tied to technical subject matter ensures that students will be ready for a successful job career. The internships and other cooperative work experiences (work-based experiences in the workplace) that are a part of Career and Technical Education are helpful to all students who want to get a "head start" on a career.

How many Career and Technical Education programs are there in the United States?

Across the country, Career and Technical Education programs are offered in about 9,400 postsecondary institutions which offer technical programs, including community colleges, technical institutes, community workforce skill centers and other public and private two-year colleges.

Is there a compiled list of leading Career and Technical Education programs?

The U.S. Department of Education has named Career and Technical Education programs to its "New American High Schools" list and the Office of Vocational and Adult Education also has recognized programs with awards. The Association of Career and Technical Education  has created the Promising Practices and Programs web page to highlight Career and Technical Education programs across the country.

Students with disabilities should select postsecondary education options carefully, particularly if they will need academic support. Many community colleges provide Disability Student Services, but most proprietary schools do not. When visiting a program-and visiting is important-students should ask how many students with disabilities have completed the program successfully, what their placement rates have been, and specifically what types of academic support are provided, as well as whether extra costs are associated with it (Nimon, 2006).

What important questions should be answered before choosing a CTE program in a specific institution?

Here is a sample list of common questions:

  1. Are the school's programs licensed with the state?
  2. How long have they been licensed?
  3. Is the school accredited with a national accreditation body or with the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC) which can be found at Other links to regional and national accrediting agencies can be found with the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities at
  4. Is the school equipped to accept and process financial aid? What type of payment plans do they have?
  5. Does the school have Disability Student Services? Do they provide tutoring services and how much do they cost?
  6. Can they provide the success rates of students with disabilities who have enrolled in the program?
  7. Will coursework, certificate courses, and degrees from the school transfer to a four-year college? How many of their students transfer to four-year schools upon completion of their programs?
  8. How many students actually complete each program? What is the average length of time for student completion for each program?
  9. What is the school's employment placement rate for each program? How many years have they collected this data?
  10. What are the average earnings for completers or graduates upon placement, and after two years?
  11. Will they give you the names and contact information of the instructors for the programs of interest? Will they give you a current student's or graduate's contact information? (Nimon, 2006)

Is there any proof that Career and Technical Education works?

Yes. According to many studies, Career and Technical Education graduates are 10-15% more likely to be in the labor force and earn 8-9% more than graduates of academic programs.

A 2002 study conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago found that a year of technically oriented coursework at a community college increased the earnings of men by 14% and women by 29%.

A 2004 National Assessment of Vocational Education Final Report found that postsecondary Career and Technical Education proved an effective means to higher income, providing 5-8% more earnings for postsecondary CTE students than to high school graduates with similar characteristics.



POSTSECONDARY (related to colleges, universities, and/or employment)

American Association of Community Colleges


US Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook

Federal Trade Commission

US Department of Education


Now that you have read this module, use the information provided to:

  1. Match your interests, skills, and education requirements with possible careers
  2. Review the career clusters to see which ones interest you 
  3. Investigate the postsecondary institutions in your geographic area to see what options are available to you
  4. Ask the pertinent questions about the school/program of your choice


Now that you have gone through this module, you should be able to:

  • Discuss the need for Career and Technical Education.
  • Explain what a career cluster is.
  • Identify the 16 career clusters.
  • Identify possible occupations for the 16 career clusters.
  • Identify the largest programs of study at the postsecondary level.
  • Discuss how an individual gets ready for participation in postsecondary education.
  • Identify where Career and Technical Education programs are offered.
  • Identify the important questions that should be answered before choosing a career and technical program in a specific institution.

Michelle Wirscenski, Ed.D., is a professor in the Department of Learning Technologies in the College of Information at UNT. Dr. Wircenski is the Principal Investigator for the Texas Education Agency career cluster grants. They develop curriculum and professional development materials for Career and Technical Education (CTE) teachers.


Achieve Texas. (2006). Austin, TX: Texas Education Agency.

Association for Career and Technical Education. CTE's Role in Secondary-Postsecondary Transitions.

Association for Career and Technical Education.Career and Technical Education's Role in Dropout Prevention and Recovery.

Federal Trade Commission. Facts for Consumers:Choosing a Career or Vocational School.

Gray, Kenneth. (2000). Getting Real: Helping Teens Find Their Future. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Hecker, Daniel. (November 2005). Occupational Employment Projections to 2014.

National Center for Education Statistics (2004, Fall). Ten largest programs of study for first majors at Title IV institutions, by gender, level of certificate, and program of study: United States, academic year 2003-2004. Retrieved October 1,2007 from

Nimon, K. (2006, Spring). Career Opportunities through Postsecondary Workforce Education. Information from HEATH.

Pennsylvania Pathways: An Educators' Guide to Career Pathways. (2006). Harrisburg, PA: Bureau of Career and Technical Education.

Scott, J. & Sarkees-Wircenski, M. (2004).Overview of Vocational and Applied Technology Education. Homewood,IL: American Technical Publishers, Inc.

Online References:

This document made possible in part by the support of The HSC Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based foundation dedicated to expanding access and success in education beyond high school. HEATH is affiliated with The George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development.The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The HSC Foundation. No official endorsement by the Foundation or of any product, commodity, service or enterprise mentioned in this publication is intended or should be inferred. Permission to use, copy, and distribute this document for non-commercial use and without fee, is hereby granted if appropriate credit to the HEATH Resource Center at the National Youth Transitions Center is included in all copies.