Career Technical Education


MODULE GOAL(S): This module provides information about the law, history, definition, types of programs available, reasons for attending, and resources for individuals with disabilities interested in applying to Career and Technical Education programs. 

  1. Define CTE programs.
  2. Review the law that governs CTE.
  3. Review the career clusters one might choose to pursue in a CTE program.
  4. List the steps needed to apply to a CTE program.
  5. Identify ways to get more resources about CTE programs.
  6. Compare CTE programs to other secondary and post-secondary options.
  7. Explain why one would choose to attend a CTE program.


Have you ever heard someone say, “When I grow up I want to be…”? Some people grow up knowing exactly what they want to do when they become adults, other people find their career paths by accident, and others find their calling through continued education.

What we do know is that, according to, 14 million students are enrolled in CTE programs, 1,300 are public high schools and 1,700 are two year colleges, the national graduation rate for students concentrating in CTE programs is 90.18 compared to the average national freshman graduation rate of 74.9 percent, and experts projects 47 million job openings in the decade ending 2018. Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs are an option for individuals with disabilities because they offer an alternative path to college and a successful career. Students who graduate from CTE programs can graduate with a high school diploma, certification in a specific trade or vocational field, and college credits. According to the Jennifer Gonzalez at The Chronicles of Higher Education,

Career- and technical-education programs serve a variety of learners, including high school students and prison inmates. Programs may be housed at community colleges, technology centers, and high schools. There are more than 15 million secondary and postsecondary career- and technical-education students in the country. (Para. 6)

Individuals interested in pursuing career and technical education programs should understand the law that governs these programs, the definition of CTE programs, the types of training and programs offered, the application process, places to go to find more information, and the differences between CTE, secondary, and post-secondary programs. Once informed, you can decide if CTE programs are the right choice for your career goals.

Key Questions:
Below is a list of questions that you might have about career and technical education programs.
  1. What is career and technical education?
  2. Can career and technical education programs support individuals with disabilities?
  3. How can I apply to a CTE program?
  4. Will I get the same accommodations in a post-secondary CTE program as I did in high school?
  5. How do I decide if a CTE program is the right choice for me?
  6. Where do I get more information about CTE programs?
  7. How do I apply to CTE programs?
  8. Do CTE programs cost money?

What is Career and Technical Education?

Career and technical education (CTE) is an educational opportunity to provide young people and adults with the academic, technical, and employability skills and knowledge to pursue postsecondary training or higher education and enter a career field prepared for ongoing learning (Brand, Valent, & Browning, 2013). Students in CTE leave with certification in one of the 16 career clusters.

Vocational education has been eliminated from CTE because it consisted of low-level courses, job training, and single electives (Brand, Valent, & Browning, 2013). Current CTE programs include rigorous academic coursework, and the opportunity to experience different careers. These programs prepare students for college and career readiness by providing learning options for students who might drop out.

What are the laws that govern Career and Technical Education?

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 require states to meet the educational needs of students with disabilities. States are responsible for locating students with special needs, identifying them using appropriate assessments, ensuring that the students receives a free and appropriate education, placing the student in the least restrictive environment, protecting the rights of the parent and student, providing technology related assistance, preparing teachers through professional development, and involving the parent. Career and Technical Education programs must also comply with these provisions.

The Carl D. Perkins Vocational – Technical Education Act of 1983 (Public Law 105–332) was created to govern these types of programs. The reauthorization of Public Law 105–332, The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act of 2006 (Perkins IV), supports secondary and postsecondary programs that build academic, career, and technical skills of young people and adults (Funding Career Pathways and Career Pathway Bridges CLASP, 2010). Perkins IV will provide an increased focus on the academic achievement of career and technical education students, strengthen the connections between secondary and postsecondary education, and improve state and local accountability.
What are Career Pathways?
Career Pathways are the several choices that provide different service models and sets of long term goals for students (Kochhar-Bryant & Greene, 2009). The federal, state, and local governments are embracing the term of career pathways to determine the type of services students will receive as they transition from elementary, to secondary, to post-secondary institutions. There are four career pathways, academic/post-secondary education, career technical training, employment, and supported setting. A student’s pathway is determined by their post-secondary goal (Kochhar-Bryant & Greene, 2009). Career Technical Education is one type of career pathway that students can choose to pursue.
What are Career Clusters?
Career Clusters are a grouping of occupations based on the knowledge and skills they require (The National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium, 2013). These clusters represent the options individuals can choose from when applying to CTE programs. There are 16 career clusters (The National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium, 2013). The clusters include:
  • Agriculture Food & Natural Resources
  • Architecture & Construction
  • Arts A/V Technology & Communications
  • Business Management & Administration
  • Education & Training, Finance
  • Government & Public Administration
  • Health Science, Hospitality & Tourism
  • Human Services
  • Information Technology
  • Law Public Safety Corrections & Security
  • Manufacturing, Marketing
  • Science Technology Engineering & Mathematics
  • Transportation Distribution & Logistics

For more information on career clusters, go to the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium (

What type of Career and Technical Education programs are available?

CTE programs are developed in secondary and postsecondary settings. Some programs are housed in secondary institutions, so high school students can take CTE classes and high school classes at the same time. These programs are often called dual enrollment. The programs are free, because students are still in secondary school and are entitled to a Free and Appropriate Education under IDEA. CTE programs that are not inside a secondary school allow students to focus on the CTE coursework, however students will need to pursue a high school diploma or general education diploma.

In the postsecondary setting, they require students to have a high school diploma or pursue one while in the program. These programs can be free. For instance, the Workforce Development Program at University of The District of Columbia ( offers training in a number of job clusters as well as general education diploma preparation. Some programs that work in combination with colleges allow graduates to attain the CTE certification and college credit. For instance in Montgomery County, MD, students are able to complete dual enrollment programs at their high school and Montgomery Community College. Some programs that are part of a college may be free, however most cost money. Financial aid is available, for programs that have been accredited, and can be used to cover tuition, as long as the individual applies for financial aid ( and is found eligible.

The National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEc) is a great resource for finding information about CTE programs in your state. The website offers a user friendly map, where individuals can click on their state and be sent to a page that list CTE programs in their state (

Is this the Right Choice for Me?
Do you want to further your career after high school? Are you interested in working when you finish high school? Do you want other options besides college? Are you interested in working in a particular field? Are you unsure of your career goals? Do you want training in a specific field? Are you thinking about dropping out of high school? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then taking a look at CTE options might be in your best interest. Here are some steps you may want to follow when deciding on if a CTE program is right for you.
  1. First, start out by taking a CTE interest survey. You can find a CTE interest survey on the NASDCTEc website ( This survey matches your strengths and interest to one of the 16 career clusters.
  2. Research the jobs available in that career cluster. You can use any search engine (EX:, to do this. You should research the type of jobs in the cluster, yearly salary, certification/degrees needed, employment rates in your area and across the globe, and role and responsibilities. You might be interested in making a good salary, so make sure you look at how much money you will make with a CTE certification versus an associates or bachelor’s degree.

Once you have done your research, you will be better equipped at deciding whether the CTE route is a journey you are interested in completing.

Will I get the same accommodations in a post-secondary CTE program as I did in high school?

Due to IDEA, any secondary program that includes CTE must follow the student’s individual education program. In order for an adult to receive accommodations in post-secondary CTE program, they must have a 504 plan. The American with Disabilities Act Amendment Act and Section 504 of the civil rights statutes states that individuals with a 504 plan must receive accommodations in post-secondary CTE programs. To ensure that you receive these accommodations, you will need specific documentation. Each state is different so you will need to contact your State Department of Education (, or the Department of Labor ( Below is a list of documentation that will help ensure accommodations are met at secondary and post-secondary CTE programs:

  • Individual Education Program (IEP)

The Individual Education Program is a “…written statement for each child with a disability that is developed, reviewed, and revised” in a meeting (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 2004). This document includes the child’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance, a statement of measurable academic and functional goals, a description of benchmarks or short term objectives for students who take alternate assessments aligned to alternate achievement standards, a description of the child’s progress toward meeting their annual goals, a statement of special education and related services and supplementary aids, and a statement of any individual appropriate accommodations. (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 2004)

  • 504 Plan

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs and activities, public or private, that receive federal financial assistance.

Under this law, individuals with disabilities are defined as persons with a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities such as caring for one’s self, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, working, performing manual tasks, and learning. (United States Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights, 2006, para. 3)

  • Summary of Performance

The Summary of Performance is a document that provides a summary of academic and functional performance, including recommendations to assist the student in meeting postsecondary goals, for students whose eligibility terminates because of graduation with a regular high school diploma or because of exceeding the age eligibility for FAPE under state law (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 2004).

What is the Application Process?

In many school districts, individuals in secondary school must contact their school counselor to begin the application process. School counselors can then provide information about state program availability. In some states, adults interested in applying to CTE programs must be found eligible, next they have to review the schedule of programs to see if their course of study is being offered, and finally write a statement of interest to the Workforce Development Program. The local education agencies may include listings and contact information for CTE programs in your area. Individuals who are looking for post-secondary CTE programs can use this website to obtain links to post-secondary programs in their state ( Since many CTE programs are in secondary and post-secondary institutions, interested individuals can visit the schools to talk with an admissions representative.

This module has discussed several topics related to career and technology education. The module provides information about CTE programs for individuals who might be interested in attending these programs. Important things to remember about choosing a program that is right for you:
  1. Do your research! Ask questions. Talk to your guidance counselor, parents, teachers, friends, community leaders, look on the internet, and speak with CTE admission representatives. Find out if the program is accredited and check to see how many people have graduated and found employment. Some programs may be scams, you want to make sure that the CTE program you choose will prepare you for your career.
  2. Think about possible careers. Speak with your guidance counselor or teachers about ways to choose find careers that match your skill set.
  3. Review the list of clusters and their definitions so that you can make an informed choice about which clusters you might be interested in entering. You may even want to take on a volunteer position in each cluster so that you are exposed to the type of work in this field. This may give you more information about an industry, before you commit to a program.
  4. Know your rights. Understand the law, and what you are entitled to as a student, and as an individual with disability.
  5. Review the steps you need to take in order to apply to CTE programs. Start planning as early as possible.
  6. Know where to get more information about CTE programs.
  7. Many post-secondary programs are free and all secondary programs are free. If you are on a limited income, research free programs in your area. 
Below are several online resources that will give your more information about Career and Technical Education:
This website provides individuals with information about federal, state, and local policies that impact the lives of low-income people. The organization focuses the work on strengthening families by creating pathways to education and work.
The National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium 
The National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium website that includes resources regarding CTE news and events, briefs and papers, legislative updated, advocacy tools, congressional contacts, CTE definition, programs around the nations, and webinars. 
Maryland State Fact Sheet
This is a fact sheet for secondary students living in the state of Maryland, interested in CTE programs.
District of Columbia Workforce Development
This is an example of a free adult CTE program in the District of Columbia.
United States Department of Education Office of Vocational and Adult Education
This is the United States Department of Education Office of Vocational and Adult Education website. This office is responsible managing CTE programs in the states. You can find information about the law, data and statistics, contact information, and CTE initiatives in your state and around the nation.
United States Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration
This is the United States Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration website. This website provides individuals with links to state vocational rehabilitation services. These services provide job training for individuals with disabilities.
Office of the U.S. Department of Education Federal Student Aid
This is the Office of the U.S. Department of Education Federal Student Aid website. Individuals applying to accredited CTE programs may be eligible to receive financial aid. To qualify, you must fill out the Free Application for Student Aid. If your school is included as an option in the application, then they are recognized by the United States Department of Education to receive financial aid.
Now that you have read this module, think about using the following steps to develop a plan of action for deciding if a career and technical education program is right for you. If you are considering CTE programs before leaving high school, you will want to begin this planning process at the end of middle school. If you are already in high school and you want to transfer to a CTE program, you will need to begin this process immediately. If you are in high school and are thinking about a post-secondary CTE program, you will want to begin this process in your freshman year. 
  1. Talk with parents, peers, and school staff, and guidance counselor about your interest in CTE programs.
  2. Take the student interest survey that helps them match their strengths to specific career cluster skills (
  3. Use the results from the student interest survey to guide you in choosing a volunteer experience. Use this experience to gauge whether the career would be of interest to you.
  4. Speak to your guidance counselor or a CTE admission representative about programs available in your area that match your career cluster interest.
  5. List 5 of the schools and the programs they offer to the community. Research the graduation rate, cost, and employment rates of the CTE program. Use this information to guide your decision making. If you are having difficulties making a decision, include someone you trust in the decision making process. This individual can be a parent, teacher, social worker, and/or guidance counselor.
  6. Find out specific admissions procedures from guidance counselors or CTE admission representatives. If you are having trouble find information and resources, check online or call your local education agency. The local education agency in your area may be called the Board of Education or the Department of Education.
  7. Once accepted into the program, you will want to be sure that the secondary CTE program has a copy of your individual education program (IEP). Speak with a CTE guidance counselor to discuss your accommodations. If you are attending a post-secondary CTE program, get a 504 plan and ask your high school to send that to the CTE program.
Your family, teachers, and guidance counselors can help you decide whether a CTE program is the right plan for you. The career you choose will be your decision, so be sure that you think about your strengths. Have someone help you connect those strengths to specific career cluster skills. You may need to volunteer in different roles to decide what careers may be right for you. Be sure that you understand the law and what you are entitled to under the law. If you need help, bring someone who understands the law and can advocate for you when meeting to discuss CTE programs.
Renee Kemp is a graduate student at The George Washington University. In August 2013, she will graduate with a Masters of Arts in Education and Human Development with a focus on Secondary Special Education and Transition Services. Prior to pursuing her graduate degree, she worked with the Harlem Children Zone as an Assistant Director for an Arts and Media Literacy after school program, The Renaissance University for Community Education (T.R.U.C.E). The program services at risk high school students living in the Harlem area of New York City, by preparing them for the transition from high school to a post secondary institution. Currently, she teaches at The Ridge School Rockville Maryland, a middle school and high school, serving students with emotional and behavioral disabilities.
Brand, B., Valent, A., Browning, A. (2013, March). How career and technical education can help students be college and career ready: a primer. Retrieved from

Career and Technical Education (TEA). (2012). CTE history of legislation. Retrieved from

Funding Career Pathways and Career Pathway Bridges CLASP. (2010). Carl D. Perkins career and technical education act. Retrieved from

Gonzalez, J. (2011). Career and technical education must prove its values, education secretary says. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 § 34 CFR 300.320(a), 20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(1)(A)(i)

Kochhar-Bryant, C., & Greene, G. (2009). Pathways to successful transition for youth with disabilities: A developmental process. (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education Inc.

The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 (Public Law 105-332), 20 U.S.C § 2301 et seq.

The National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium. (2013). The 16 career clusters. Retrieved from

Unites States Department of Education. (2012). Investing in America’s future a blueprint for transforming career and technical education. Retrieved from

United States Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights. (2006). Fact sheet on your rights under section 504 of the rehabilitation act. Retrieved from