Career Clustersâ„¢ Institute Recap: National Research Center for Career and Technical Education: What the Research Reveals about Programs of Study

The National Career Clusters™ Institute is an annual summer event that offers a range of seminars and workshops highlighting model CTE programs across the country that are aligned to the National Career Clusters Framework ™. This blog series provides a recap of the broad range of information shared over the course of the event, which took place June 18 – 20 in Washington, DC.

At last week’s National Career Clusters™ Institute, Dr. James Stone of the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education (NRCCTE) sought to answer the question, “If programs of study are the solution, what is the problem?”

Stone discussed the toll that the Great Recession has taken on the labor market and the current condition of education, and the challenges that have resulted. The NRCCTE has several research studies designed to examine how states and local school districts are addressing these challenges.

Since the 1980s, nearly one full year of core academics has been added to high school graduation requirements yet standardized test scores in reading and science have decreased and math scores have been stagnant. Programs of study (POS) provide a way to engage students and help them transition to further education and careers.

As states continue to develop and implement POS, the NRCCTE has been conducting numerous studies to learn more about the impact of POS on engagement, achievement, the transition from secondary to postsecondary education and/or careers, and high school completion and credentials. Current longitudinal studies include:

  • Do CTE POS Improve Student Achievement? Preliminary Analyses from a Rigorous Longitudinal Study
  • Mature POS: A structure for the transition to college and career?
  • Implementing Statewide Mandated Career Pathways/POS School Reform Model: Select Findings from a Multisite Case Study

Findings so far include:


  • Over 70 percent of secondary students reported that being in a POS made them more engaged in school and better prepared for college and careers.
  • Thirty-five percent of the sample enrolled in local, POS-affiliated colleges. Of these, half continued to study in their POS area.


  • Taking more CTE courses is related to taking more math and science credits, and to a higher GPA in science.
  • CTE course-taking has a positive relationship with academic motivation and skills.


  • Of the students who entered POS-affiliated colleges, nearly half stayed in the same POS as in high school. More than half stayed in the same Career Clusterâ„¢.

While the studies are ongoing, Stone noted that guidance and counseling, opportunities to acquire postsecondary credits, and coursework that leads to an industry-recognized credential or degree are critical components of POS.

Kara Herbertson, Education Policy Analyst

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