Five Steps to Expand Access to High-Quality CTE in Rural Schools

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This guest post comes from Austin Estes, senior policy associate at Advance CTE.

Since the Smith-Hughes National Vocational Education Act was first passed over 100 years ago, career technical education has delivered the knowledge, skills and experiences that future farmers, mechanics, manufacturers and health care workers need to be successful in the workplace.

But the economic needs of rural communities are rapidly transforming, and ensuring CTE programs can effectively equip learners for the 21st-century economy is a challenge for schools and institutions across the country. State policymakers play a role in ensuring that programs are high-quality; learners experience authentic, work-based learning opportunities; schools have the capacity to offer a variety of program offerings; and there is a sufficient pipeline of qualified instructors. These challenges — enough to frustrate policymakers in any geographic setting — are exacerbated in rural schools, institutions and programs.

Advance CTE released a strategy guide to help state policymakers strengthen CTE pathways in rural areas. The guide, along with four supplemental policy briefs, is based on interviews with over a dozen state CTE leaders. It defines five critical steps to execute a rural strategy for CTE:

  • Secure buy-in and commitment for new or ongoing reforms.
  • Use data strategically to understand access gaps and assess programmatic and policy impact.
  • Leverage regional, cross-sector partnerships.
  • Use technology to expand access and reach.
  • Invest resources to spark innovation.

To understand what these strategies look like in practice, consider Nebraska’s reVISION initiative. Through a multi-step process, local school leaders meet with employers, community members, students and educators and examine state and regional labor market information to develop a reVISION action plan. The plan identifies the key leverage points and strategies to align program offerings with postsecondary entrance requirements and regional labor market needs.

While reVISION was originally launched using reserve funds through the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006, the state legislature has since put forth additional funds to scale and sustain the program. Since 2014, Nebraska has awarded over $3 million in action grants to 87 districts to help execute reVISION action plans. As a result, 87 percent of participating sites reported adopting at least one new CTE course or program through reVISION.

What makes reVISION so effective?

For one, CTE leaders worked to secure commitment for the initiative at all levels — from local community business owners to state legislators. In the five years since the program was launched, support has continued to expand.

The reVISION process is informed by data and draws on technology and partnerships to strengthen local program offerings. The local action plan not only identifies access gaps using regional and state labor market data and program quality assessments, but also identifies critical actions, technology and partnerships needed to be undertaken by the local district to expand the reach of CTE.

Finally, officials at Nebraska Career Education provide seed funding to execute reVISION action plans, helping local leaders accelerate the development of new CTE programs.

As Nebraska demonstrates, it takes a coordinated and strategic effort to ensure all rural learners can realize the future that CTE promises. Advance CTE’s rural CTE resources can help states learn from and replicate Nebraska’s success — using data, partnership, technology and funding to transform rural career pathways.

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