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Vocational and Technical Education: Perspectives on Curriculum Strategies and Challenges

What the GAO found

Career and Technical Education (CTE) enables high school and college students to pursue in-demand occupations such as manufacturing jobs, and provides employers with a skilled workforce. The four selected states and eight CTE program providers interviewed by GAO supported different student populations through strategies such as leveraging state, local, and federal funds; conduct needs assessments; or engage with industry. Needs assessments can be useful tools for identifying student needs and discovering ways to improve CTE programs. For example, one CTE provider identified gaps in service to English learners and hired an interpreter to make information more accessible. The provider said this action increased CTE enrollment among this population to 12 out of 20 students in the 2021-2022 school year, from none in the previous school year. Some state officials also highlighted the importance of involving industry partners in identifying workplace learning opportunities.

Some ETC stakeholders, including state officials, program providers, and business representatives, reported long-standing challenges with ETC program delivery, access, and replication (see figure ). In some cases, stakeholders provided examples of how they are addressing ETC challenges. For example, to overcome negative perceptions associated with CTE, two program providers said their schools conducted outreach activities to inform parents of the benefits of CTE. Additionally, two other stakeholders have taken steps to address challenges with limited data on long-term outcomes, such as developing a system that can link different data sources.

Challenges reported by selected stakeholders regarding the delivery, access and replication of vocational and technical education (CTE) programs

The Department of Education supports CTE programs by administering grants, providing technical assistance, partnering with other federal agencies, and developing research. For example, the Ministry of Education has taken steps to expand research on strategies for improving student outcomes in CTE. The What Works Education Clearinghouse is a central source of education evidence and provides educators with information on how to improve CTE outcomes. Education officials also reported making improvements to the What Works Clearinghouse website in 2021 to improve user access to CTE research.

Why GAO Did This Study

CTE programs offer students the opportunity to explore potential careers while learning technical and employability skills. Education administers funds for these programs through the Strengthening Vocational and Technical Education for the 21st Century (Perkins V) Act. For fiscal year 2021, Congress authorized approximately $1.3 billion to support CTE programs through Perkins V, and approximately 11 million students participated in these programs in 2019-20. Perkins V and a U.S. House of Representatives committee report accompanying a fiscal year 2021 appropriations bill include provisions for the GAO to review CTE service and funding strategies. In addition, the GAO was separately asked to review programs funded by Perkins V.

This report examines (1) the strategies that some recipients of federal CTE funds have used to support their CTE programs and help different student populations, (2) the challenges that CTE stakeholders face and how they are addressing them, and (3) how education supports CTE programs.

GAO interviewed education officials, state officials from Delaware, Georgia, Ohio, and Washington (selected based on CTE enrollment of students from different populations, among other factors), representatives from eight CTE program providers and 14 other CTE stakeholders, including business representatives . GAO also reviewed CTE funding information from the eight CTE program providers; and reviewed relevant federal statutes and education documents.

For more information, contact Dawn Locke at (202) 512-7215 or locked@gao.gov.

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