In view of the urgent need to improve the economy and increase educational attainment in the state,
the potential of the Career Technical Education function of the California Community Colleges is not
receiving sufficient attention, says a new report released today by the Institute for Higher Education
Leadership & Policy at Sacramento State University.
The report, The Road Less Traveled: Realizing the Potential of Career Technical Education in
the California Community Colleges, found that CTE can be an important vehicle for helping to
meet the state’s completion, workforce, and equity goals. But a lack of priority on awarding
technical certificates and degrees and the absence of clear pathways for students to follow in
pursuing those credentials have held the programs back.
“The mission and importance of CTE are not well understood by policymakers and other
stakeholders, and as a result we don’t have the structures and policies to take full advantage of
these programs,” said Nancy Shulock, director of IHELP. “We think there are some important
steps to be taken that would allow the colleges to help more students complete the occupational
programs they are pursuing, and that would better meet the needs of the state as well.”
Recent studies show that a large share of California’s future jobs are “middle skills” jobs
requiring an occupational certificate or vocational associate degree and that many of these jobs
have the prospect of more substantial earnings than those of traditional academic degrees. Yet,
in spite of large enrollments of CCC students in vocational courses, few students earn
Of the 255,000 degree/certificate-seeking students (defined as taking more than six units in the
first year) entering the CCC in the 2003-04 academic year, only 5% earned certificates and 3%
earned vocational associate degrees within six years. Many more students than that made
considerable progress and earned 30 or more college-level credits, but the progress did not
translate into certificates or degrees.
Researchers studied patterns of student enrollment and progress in four high-wage, high-need
fields (information technology, engineering technology, engineering and nursing) as a basis for
drawing some conclusions about the CTE mission area as a whole and to explore reasons for
the low award of technical credentials. They found that even in these technical fields most of the
associate degrees earned were in interdisciplinary studies rather than in a technical field.
“There appears to be a perceived lack of value to technical associate degrees and certificates
which may account for students not pursuing these credentials,” said Shulock. “Unfortunately
the general degrees students are receiving do not signal to employers that a student has
expertise in a field and therefore do not serve students well who want to enter the workforce.”
Researchers also documented a huge variety of choices of certificates and degrees in the same
or similar fields even in a single college and widely differing program requirements across
colleges. This raises the possibility that fewer choices and more consistency might make it
easier for students to enter and complete occupational programs.
“This report rightly points out that we have an opportunity to do a much better job of using the
resources in our community colleges to help create a stronger workforce in California,” said
David Rattray, vice president, education and workforce development, Los Angeles Chamber of
Commerce. “The employers I work with would definitely benefit from more structure to certificate
and associate degree programs. We would attract more students into these programs and help
them be better prepared for high-paying jobs when they finish.”
The report offers specific recommendations to strengthen the CTE mission including
reexamining the structure and function of occupationally-oriented associate degrees now that a
new set of associate degrees for transfer is being developed under last year’s SB 1440. Also
recommended is that the system consider offering fewer, more consistent CTE programs that
clearly meet regional needs and that students formally declare a program of study and colleges
ensure that students have access to the classes they need for those programs.