Federal Audit Adds Clarity to Competency-Based Education Policies for Colleges and Universities

August 18th, 2016

CBE photoIn the postsecondary world there is growing interest in Competency-Based Education (CBE), a strategy that organizes learning around mastery rather than seat time. CBE is already considered a promising strategy in secondary Career Technical Education (CTE) because it allows students to learn at their own pace in a flexible environment and helps them develop the skills necessary to be successful in their future careers. However, a newly published audit from the U.S. Office of the Inspector General shows that, in order for CBE programs to thrive, the higher education community will need to ensure that students receive regular, substantive interaction with their instructors.

The target of the audit is the Senior College and University Commission (part of an accrediting agency called the Western Association of Schools and Colleges), which reviews and accredits postsecondary programs in California, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands. Among the Commission’s responsibilities is evaluating course content to ensure that the purposes, methods of delivery and measurement of learning are aligned with federal policy. These evaluations carry a lot of weight — programs are eligible to receive federal grant funding under Title IV of the Higher Education Act depending on the results of the evaluation — which is why the Inspector General audited the Commission’s review process.

While CBE has enjoyed bipartisan support, the Federal Government’s priority is to ensure that CBE programs are held to high standards of quality. That is why the Higher Education Act restricts federal funding depending on the way that educational content is delivered. Traditionally, academic content has been delivered in a classroom environment, which is considered “campus-based education.” Non-traditional methods of delivery can still qualify for federal funding, but the amount of funding is contingent on the quality of instruction.

CBE courses that are delivered off-campus and are supported by “regular and substantive interaction between the instructor and student” are classified as distance education. In contrast, courses in which education is self-paced and interaction between the student and instructor is limited are considered correspondence education. Correspondence education has implications for funding because students enrolled in such courses are only eligible for a half-time Federal Pell Grant Award.

At issue in the Inspector General’s audit is the way that the Commission classifies courses as distance or correspondence education. The audit found that the Commission did not sufficiently evaluate whether courses would be considered correspondence education, meaning that some courses could have been classified incorrectly. While the Commission does not have the authority to approve correspondence courses — this authority is outside of the Commission’s scope — it is still responsible for identifying them. After receiving the Inspector General’s audit, the Commission revised its policies and procedures to ensure that students in CBE programs receive regular and substantive interaction with their instructors.

The Shared Vision for the Future of CTE calls on states and institutions to “embrace postsecondary competency-based education models … to expand access for more learners, and provide more flexibility so all individuals can get the skills they need when they need them.” While the Federal Government has already created avenues to promote CBE in higher education, accrediting agencies should consider how they evaluate the methods of delivery for CBE programs in order to realize this vision.

Austin Estes, Policy Associate

SkillsUSA Supports Putting Learner Success First

August 17th, 2016

This post is written by by Tim Lawrence, Executive Director, SkillsUSA, a supporter of Putting Learner Success First: A Shared Vision for the Future of CTE. 

The past year was one of growth and change for Career Technical Education (CTE). With interest in the media and on Capitol Hill, CTE was 2c SkillsUSA® 72dpiin the spotlight as a strategy for addressing our education and workforce challenges. Helping more learners navigate pathways to careers and continued education is a national priority that’s shared by educators, employers and Congress.

I was proud to watch history unfold when Advance CTE and six national organizations released a collective vision that proposed a transformation of CTE. Putting Learner Success First: A Shared Vision for the Future of CTE is a clear call to action. It asks leaders, policymakers and practitioners to commit to a high-quality CTE system where learners prepare for success.

In Orlando last October, I attended the Future of CTE Summit. The event brought together leaders in K-12 and postsecondary education with those in workforce development. I was extremely honored to be a part of this important summit and provide input to the process. Together, we reviewed the CTE landscape and thought strategically about how CTE could expand its contributions to education. The vision that resulted from this gathering offers key guiding principles and action steps including high standards, empowering learners, flexible learning options led by knowledgeable experts, and systems that put students first.

One thing CTE leaders do well is collaborate and build off each success. Advance CTE is leading the charge, and SkillsUSA is proud to support these efforts. This vision is truly a shared vision across many organizations including SkillsUSA.

As it has for nearly 100 years, Advance CTE represents state leaders of CTE who support visionary state leadership and best practices, and who promote academic and technical excellence that ensures a career-ready workforce. This in turn helps position the United States to flourish in a global economy.

Like other Career and Technical Student Organizations (CTSOs), SkillsUSA considers itself is a vital solution to the growing skills gap. Our partnership of students, instructors and industry ensures America has the skilled workforce it needs to stay competitive. We serve more than 300,000 member students and instructors annually in middle schools, high schools and colleges. Our diverse talent pipeline covers 130 trade, technical and skilled service occupations, the majority STEM-related. SkillsUSA programs are integrated into CTE through a framework of personal, workplace and technical skills grounded in academics.

We are proud to work with Advance CTE. Their work supports our mission and continues to seek better ways to advance learning and engage students. CTE is getting attention and gaining ground for one reason: because it works. CTE is a proven workforce and education strategy. CTE concentrators are more likely to graduate high school, enroll in postsecondary education, be employed and earn higher wages.

Employers are hungry for more prepared students and future employees, so what is holding us back? CTE still faces a stereotype across our country as being a place for low-achievers or non-college-bound students. The systems in place keep CTE separate from other education, and not just in a silo — but often in a separate building. We have to keep pushing to educate the public about CTE to ensure that students know about it before they select high-school classes, and to review how programs are planned and delivered to ensure students can follow a career path and be college- and career-ready.

We are all accountable for our success and failure within CTE. We must swiftly eliminate programs that are no longer relevant in today’s economy and invest in what works. To support all learners on their career journeys requires nothing short of major transformation. The hard work has begun by Advance CTE and its leadership. They are changing the face of CTE one student at a time. We look forward to embracing and promoting the vision of Putting Learner Success First. Working together with Advance CTE, we will enhance our education and workforce systems and enable more of our learners to live successful and productive lives and grow in careers that support our schools, communities and our nation’s economic prosperity.

Putting Learner Success First: New Resources, New Supporters & More!

August 16th, 2016


In May, Advance CTE and six partner organizations released Putting Learner Success First: A Shared Vision for the Future of CTE, establishing a bold vision for all of education, which includes, but is not limited to Career Technical Education (CTE). Since the release, tens of thousands of copies have been distributed across the country and state and local leaders have begun to signal their commitment to its implementation.

To support leaders at all levels turn this shared vision into a reality – and truly support ALL learners on their paths to career success – Advance CTE has created a number of resources and materials. We will continue to build and share new tools and resources in coming months.

New Resources

Want to help spread the word about the shared vision? Check out our tips for sharing Putting Learner Success First or dive right in and use our PowerPoint and talking points.

Looking to make the case to state CTE leaders? Use this two-pager to get started.

Or, want to understand what work is already underway to support the vision’s principles and actions nationally? Review this chart of aligned national efforts to track progress and see where new investment are most needed.

New Vision Supporters

We are so excited to announce that SkillsUSA and Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) have both officially signed on as supporters to Putting Learner Success First, joining the original seven supportive organizations! As two of the leading Career Technical Student Organizations in the country, they support the leadership, technical and academic skills of learners in all 50 states – serving over 450,000 learners and instructors. You can read their sign on letters here and be on the look out for their guest blogs soon.

Sign on Campaign

Finally, we recently created a sign on campaign, where leaders and supporters at all levels can show their support for the shared vision. We encourage you to join your peers from across the country and sign on today!


Kate Kreamer, Deputy Executive Director

Welcome Eric Feldborg, New Hampshire’s new State CTE Director

August 15th, 2016

Eric Feldborg has had a less traditional route to the State CTE Director position in New Hampshire. Beginning his career as a process and product engineer, he then transitioned into building custom furniture, all the while serving as a skiing instructor on the winter weekends. Eventually, Feldborg recognized his love of teaching and decided to make a career of it by becoming a science teacher. Feldborg ended up spending 15 years teaching, eight of which were at a competency-based school. In the process of getting recertified, Feldborg began taking graduate courses and became more deeply interested in education leadership and the social sciences, eventually earning a doctorate of education from Plymouth State University.

While working on his dissertation, Feldborg reached out to the commissioner of education in the state who steered Feldborg towards an innovative project at one of the state’s Career Technical Education (CTE) centers. His research focused on how unplanned strategies emerge in complex systems undergoing transformational change. After earning his doctorate, he continued serving as the Outreach Administrator at Great Bay eLearning Charter School, then moved to the New Hampshire Department of Education. Before assuming his current role, he served as the state’s STEM Director for six months.

As State CTE Director, Feldborg hopes to serve as a facilitator and help create a more cohesive system among state leaders across the education and workforce sectors. Additionally, he wants to refine the monitoring process at the local level to ensure it is seamless and productive. Over the next year, Feldborg plans to learn the ins and outs of the requirements and determine how schools can focus on improving CTE at its core.

Katie Fitzgerald, Communications Associate 

Election 2016: Pence’s CTE Record in Indiana Hints at Republican Ticket’s Education Agenda

August 12th, 2016

This is the first part of a series exploring the 2016 presidential candidates’ positions, records and statements about Career Technical Education (CTE). This post examines the Republican ticket.

Trump PenceLacking an Education Record, Trump Makes Nods to Parental Choice

Coming from the private sector, Republican Nominee Donald Trump has a limited record on education. Yet he has provided some hints as to what an education agenda would look like under his administration, including a smaller role for the federal government, more choice for parents, and more employable college degrees.

Trump’s campaign website advocates more power for parents, arguing that “education has to be at a local level. We cannot have the bureaucrats in Washington telling you how to manage your child’s education.” The real estate tycoon voiced similar sentiments in his Republican National Convention speech, promising to empower “parents [to] send [their kids] to a safe school of their choice.”

While Trump, to our knowledge, has not explicitly endorsed Career Technical Education  (CTE) as an educational strategy, there is some evidence that CTE would be included in a plan to expand parental choice. The Republican party’s 2016 platform calls for “options in learning, including home-schooling, career and technical education, private or parochial schools, magnet schools, charter schools, online learning, and early-college high schools.” If this is any indication of what a Trump administration would look like, then CTE would likely be a priority.

In regards to higher education, the Trump campaign’s national co-chairman, Sam Clovis, hinted in an interview with Inside Higher Ed that the campaign wants reforms that would incentivize getting degrees that lead to jobs over liberal arts degrees. He argues that schools should put some “skin in the game” and share some of the risk when students pursue degrees that do not lead to high-wage jobs. This would likely lead colleges to make decisions based on students’ prospective majors and post-graduation employment prospects.

In Indiana, Pence Spearheaded Regional Collaboration and Invested in Expanding CTE

Governor Mike Pence, in contrast, has had 12  years in the U.S. House of Representatives and nearly four years as governor of Indiana with which to demonstrate his CTE chops. His education record in the House is short: he voted against the No Child Left Behind Act on the grounds that it put too much power in the hands of the federal government, and voted for the Carl D. Perkins Act of 2006. Since his election as Governor of Indiana in 2012, however, Pence has made a concerted effort to prioritize CTE in schools all across the state, emphasizing the viability of both college and career pathways, which he calls “two Plan A’s.”

Most would say that Pence’s résumé in Indiana is CTE friendly. The crown jewels in his CTE record are the regional Indiana Works Councils and the state-level Career Council, both of which he worked with the state General Assembly to create during his first year in office.

The Indiana Works Councils include 11 regional boards, each composed of education and business leaders who work locally to align CTE programs with regional workforce needs. Together the councils have provided more than $4.3 million to support innovative CTE curricula across the state, which in turn reached more than 2,600 students in the first year.

At the state level, the Indiana Career Council has brought together leaders in education and industry to develop and drive CTE strategies across the state. With a three-pillar strategic plan and ongoing reviews of education and workforce needs, the Council has been the torchbearer for linking K-12, postsecondary and adult CTE to Indiana’s high wage, high demand economic sectors.

The U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce invited Pence to speak at a hearing in 2015 about expanding opportunity in America’s schools and workplaces. In his testimony, Pence once again reinforced the need for two “Plan A’s” and urged the committee to ensure that non college-bound students “can thrive in their future careers, and one way to do this is to again make career and technical education a priority.”

While the Republican ticket has yet to articulate a proposal to expand and invest in CTE at the national level, we are hopeful that, given the Republican party’s platform and Pence’s record in Indiana, CTE would be a priority in a Trump-Pence administration.

Austin Estes, Policy Associate

This Week in CTE: Experts on NPR’s ‘On Point’ Weigh in on CTE

August 12th, 2016



Earlier this week, experts weighed in on the shift from vocational education to today’s Career Technical Education (CTE) on NPR’s On Point. Listen to the hour-long discussion featuring Shaun Dougherty, author of the recent study, Career and Technical Education in High School: Does It Improve Student Outcomes? The conversation spilled over into the comments section where listeners voiced their own experiences with CTE.


Students can earn up to $2,500 if they plan to continue their studies in CTE, thanks to the Horatio Alger Association. Applications are accepted on a rolling deadline here.


Register now for our upcoming webinar, “Kentucky Gets Students on TRACK with Youth Apprenticeship“! At 2 p.m. ET, on August 31, Kentucky leaders will discuss the state’s youth pre-apprenticeship program, Tech Ready Apprentices for Careers in Kentucky. Join us to hear how the program started, how success is being measured and the lessons they’ve learned along the way.

This webinar is part of a yearlong series on work-based learning co-hosted by Advance CTE and the Appalachia Regional Comprehensive Center. In case you missed our earlier webinars, be sure to check out the initiatives in Tennessee and West Virginia.

Katie Fitzgerald, Communications Associate

Tackle Important CTE Issues at the 2016 Fall Meeting!

August 11th, 2016

Join us October 17-19, 2016, in Baltimore, Maryland, for the Advance CTE Fall Meeting! 2016 has been an Advance CTEexciting year for Career Technical Education and Advance CTE. This is your chance to get behind-the-scenes information about the ongoing efforts to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, learn about how other states are implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act and Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act, and take a deep dive into how you can help advance Putting Learner Success First: A Shared Vision for the Future of CTE.

In addition, we’ll dig into some exciting topic areas through informative panels and breakout sessions, as well as collaborative small-group discussions including:

  • Work-based learning including apprenticeships
  • Career-readiness measures
  • CTE and industry experts in the classroom

Don’t miss out on this unique professional development experience! Early bird registration closes August 31,  so register today!

Katie Fitzgerald, Communications Associate 

Report Explores State Requirements for Dual Credit Teachers

August 9th, 2016

In Missouri and Other States, Experience Counts

ECS dual creditMany states allow students to earn credits in high school that can be applied towards a postsecondary degree or credential — a strategy known as dual, or concurrent, enrollment. While dual enrollment makes it easier and more affordable to obtain a postsecondary credential, states must pass policies to ensure students are receiving this advanced instruction from qualified teachers.

To further explore this challenge, the Education Commission of the States last month released a 50-state report exploring the requirements that states are using to approve dual enrollment faculty. The report finds that most states (35 in total) require dual enrollment instructors to meet the same qualifications as faculty at postsecondary institutions. Other states only require a combination of graduate credits or work experience related to their subject of instruction.

Interestingly, some states, such as Missouri, permit Career Technical Education (CTE) instructors to teach dual credit courses without meeting postsecondary faculty qualifications as long as they demonstrate experience through “working in the field, industry certification and years of experience.” In addition to detailing faculty qualification policies, the report highlights strategies that states are using to train their existing teacher workforce to teach dual enrollment courses. Such strategies are critical for providing students with seamless pathways to postsecondary credentials and future jobs.

From the States: Investments in CTE, Workforce Training Programs

In other policy news, three states are taking steps to invest in CTE and workforce training programs. In Massachusetts the legislature passed a comprehensive economic development bill that includes $45.9 million to establish, upgrade and expand CTE and training programs that are aligned to workforce development priorities.

Meanwhile, Kentucky is now accepting applications for the $100 million Work Ready Skills Initiative, a bond-funded grant program to galvanize regional cross-sector partnerships and bring CTE facilities up to industry standards. The initiative was authorized in a recent budget bill and requires a 10 percent match from local partners.

Virginia residents can now earn a high-demand credential at a third of the cost under the New Economy Workforce Credential Grant program. The grant, which was passed in March, is designed to increase access to noncredit workforce training programs in high-demand fields. Under the program, the state Board of Workforce Development is required to publish a list of noncredit workforce training programs related to high-demand fields each year, which it has already done here for 2016.

As the new school year approaches, so do new opportunities to expand high-quality CTE across the states. Keep an eye on this feed for more updates.

Austin Estes, Policy Associate


Exploring Work-Based Learning across the Globe…and throughout Baltimore

August 4th, 2016

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in the Strengthening Work-based Learning in Education and Transition to Careers Workshop in Baltimore, Maryland.  This workshop was co-hosted by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Adult and Technical Education (OCTAE) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Advance CTE, along with other federal agencies, non-profit organizations and philanthropies served on the event’s steering committee.IMG_3585

Over the course of two days, the workshop featured a series of sessions exploring work-based learning (WBL) and apprenticeship systems in a range of countries – from Germany and Switzerland to the U.K. and Denmark – as well as the impact of such programs and policies on the key stakeholders, notably students and employers. Established research on the major components of a WBL systems, such as WestEd’s well-regarded WBL continuum, was shared, along with brand new international analyses on the intersection of apprenticeship participation and youth engagement, basic skills and equity.

The workshop also highlighted local “trailblazing” programs and a session on the state role in supporting WBL, which I had the opportunity to participate along with leaders from the National Governors Association, The Siemens Foundation, Colorado and Tennessee.

image1Probably the most fun part of the event was the afternoon dedicated to visiting WBL in action at programs throughout Baltimore. I had the chance to visit Plumbers & Steamfitters Local No. 486 and FreshStart-Living Classrooms, two very different programs supporting individuals through rigorous technical instruction and on-the-job training.

This workshop is part of OECD’s research and technical assistance project, entitled “Work-based Learning in Vocational Education and Training,” which is being implemented and funded jointly by Australia, Canada, the European Commission, Germany, Norway, Scotland, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. We’ll be sure to share the research as it is released!

Kate Blosveren Kreamer, Deputy Executive Director

CTE Research Review: The Value of Rigorous High School Programs

August 3rd, 2016

New Research Highlights the Value of “And” in College And Career

Path Least TakenCollege is often considered a safe bet, but new research from the Center for Public Education (CPE) finds that comparable opportunity can be found in rigorous high school programs that result in a professional certification. In the third installment of its “Path Least Taken” series, CPE compares social and economic outcomes between students with a four-year college degree and “high-credentialed” students with no degree (the paper defines “high-credentialed” students as those who demonstrated success in high school academic and technical courses and obtained a professional certification).

The study finds that “high-credentialed” students with no degree were just as likely to be employed full-time, be satisfied with their jobs and to vote in a recent election by age 26 as students with four-year degrees. The study also finds that, among students who pursued but did not complete a postsecondary degree, those who graduated from a rigorous high school program had more positive social and economic outcomes overall. This demonstrates that rigorous college and career preparation in high school can serve as a powerful economic safety net along the path to a higher degree.

Evaluation Finds Opportunity in Accelerating Opportunity Program

In other news, Urban Institute and the Aspen Institute released an evaluation of Accelerating Opportunity (AO), a program designed to help adults with low basic skills earn occupational credentials and obtain well-paying jobs. One innovation that AO uses is to change the delivery of adult education by pairing basic skill instruction and technical education so that students can earn Career Technical Education (CTE) credits and a high school credential concurrently, placing adults without a high school degree on a path towards a high-wage, high-skill job.

The evaluation finds interesting outcomes from the first three years of the program. Of the more than 8 thousand students enrolled in evaluated states (Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky and Louisiana), one-third engaged in work-based learning and 30 percent found a job related to the occupational area of their pathway within the first three years. The report highlights further opportunities for states to align adult education and CTE in community colleges.

Diving Into Postsecondary Data Systems

Without labor market outcomes and participation data for students in CTE programs, it is difficult for policymakers to identify challenges or scale successes. That’s why a strong state-level data system is core to an effective CTE strategy. At the postsecondary level, linked data systems (also known as postsecondary student unit record systems or PSURSs) can improve program efficiency, advance student success and provide useful information to policymakers.

A new report from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) examines national trends across state data collection agencies. The report draws on survey data to illustrate the scope of state-level PSURSs and the strategies states are using to link their data systems with others in the education and workforce continuum. The report finds that 26 states currently enable the linking of postsecondary, workforce and K-12 data in a P20W data warehouse — up from eight in 2010. While these trends are promising, the report issues four concluding recommendations for policymakers to improve and further expand state-level PSURSs:

  • Tie the PSURSs to strategic planning efforts;
  • Engage agency leadership regarding the capabilities of the data system and collaborate on research priorities;
  • Address privacy concerns head on; and
  • Serve the needs of constituents.

WDQC InfographicThe report precedes an infographic released last week from the Workforce Data Quality Campaign, the Postsecondary Data Collaborative and SHEEO. The sleek infographic maps postsecondary and workforce data systems and illuminates the most common gaps in state longitudinal data systems (SLDS). Filling these gaps is important not only to provide data to policymakers and researchers but also to increase transparency for college-going students and their parents.  

Odds and Ends

  • The National Center for Education Statistics released a “Data Point” brief that compares postsecondary outcomes for two cohorts of public high school graduates: the class of 1992 and the class of 2004. The brief finds the largest increase in enrollment rates for graduates earning four or more CTE credits.
  • Families can play a critical role in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) learning, but many of them are not equipped to support their children along a STEM career pathway. To combat this challenge, the National PTA Association’s new white paper, STEM + Families, draws on findings from a national scan of the family engagement landscape to provide recommendations for engaging families around STEM learning.
  • Omicron Tau Theta (OTT), a national honorary professional graduate society in CTE, released its quarterly compilation of research, trends and teaching strategies in the field. This month’s issue of Professionalism to Practice features research around agricultural education and strategies for CTE instruction.
  • A Snapshot Report from the National Student Clearinghouse examines postsecondary degree records to reveal an interesting finding: two in five associate degrees led to bachelor’s degrees within six years. This emphasizes the need for strong alignment between two-year and four-year institutions of higher education.
  • Researchers from Cornell University recently found that, while CTE programs in blue-collar communities do lead to high-wage jobs after high school, many women in these communities are being left out. As a result, women in blue-collar communities end up with worse professional prospects and lower salaries than men in the same communities.
  • The National Skills Coalition is out with a follow up to its 2014 playbook for implementing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), appropriately titled Realizing Innovation and Opportunity in WIOA. Among other strategies, the playbook discusses how states can integrate effective career pathways into their WIOA state plans.

Austin Estes, Policy Associate