Voice from the Industry

Changing the Conversation to CAREER and College Readiness

There is a lot of talk about college and career readiness today, but I believe they have it backwards. The conversation needs to revolve around high school students making the right career pathway decisions and then deciding what post-secondary education or training is really needed. Why do I say this? Let's look at the FACTS today in America's high schools:

  • 7,000 students drop out every day
  • 70% graduation rate nationwide and only 50% in many urban schools
  • 1.3 million students dropping out every year
CTE video

Click on the image above to see a three-minute impact movie about this situation.

So what is causing this tragic condition? I believe it is the ever-increasing lack of relevance in America's high schools. Those of us who have been following the excellent work of Bill Daggett know that he says rigor is only possible when there is relevance.

One of the reasons that school is not relevant for many students is the push for every child to be prepared for a four-year university experience. That is nonsense. Fact is, only about 25% of the jobs in the future will require a four-year degree, but 65% will need advanced technical training.

student working

What we really need to be doing is giving high school (and middle school) students enough experience to make intelligent, informed decisions about which career pathway to pursue. Only then can they make the right decision about going to college and what to pursue. Preparing all students for a four-year university experience has another huge problem lying beneath the surface…huge student loan debt. An article in USA Today describes this looming economic bomb.

I recall a story about a young man in a Michigan high school that, upon graduation, was going to join the family business, manufacturing parts for the auto industry. His father built a very successful machining business, and the son was eager to join it full-time and use the CNC tools. The father overheard the son talking to one of his friends on the telephone, explaining that he had not yet decided on either Michigan or Michigan State. When the call was over, the Dad said that he didn't know the son wanted to go to college, and they needed to start applying right away. The son responded that he is still joining the family business, but he didn't want his friends to know he wasn't going to college. Have we now made it dishonorable to not pursue a four-year university degree? 

A great answer to this dilemma is to offer more well-designed and academically rigorous Career & Technical Education (CTE) programs. In March 2012 at the International Technology & Engineering Educator Association (ITEEA) conference in Long Beach, Tom Torlakson, California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, said he was committed to doubling the number of students enrolled in CTE programs. Those students have a much higher graduation rate than students who do not take CTE. He said that in California, students taking CTE courses had nearly a 96% graduation rate. 

Great CTE programs really do help students make better post-secondary education decisions. An article in The New York Times on November 2, 2011 accurately pointed out that "College Majors Matter." The author noted that while college enrollment has increased by 50% over the past 25 years, the number of students graduating with degrees in STEM-related fields has been flat. Today, students graduating with STEM-related degrees are much more likely to find high-paying work. 

At PAXTON/PATTERSON, we understand the need for quality CTE programs and have been supplying needed products for these programs for more than 50 years. For the last 20 years, we have also provided learning systems to schools across America and around the world. Today we offer six learning systems for STEM, Construction, Health Science, and Family & Consumer Sciences. These programs bring outstanding relevance and rigorous curriculum to thousands of students every day. Our learning systems help students discover their "Sweet Spot," where their interests and aptitudes converge. They can say, “I like this and I am good at it.”  If you would like to learn more about how our learning systems are changing the lives of so many students, please visit our website

You may want to read this article (photo below) describing how the Los Angeles County Office of Education teamed up with the Probation Department to provide our BuildingSkills program to youth.

CTE article

You can also watch this six-minute video (no photo) to see how and why they implemented BuildingSkills to prepare young detainees for successful careers in construction. Perhaps if we had more of these programs in the public high schools, we would have less need to incarcerate youth.

The Superintendent in Peoria, Illinois decided to reinvest in state-of-the-art CTE programs and talks about his decision in this video (photo below). You will also hear the Mayor, President of the Chamber of Commerce, and even an executive from Caterpillar describe why viable CTE programs are essential for student success.

CTE video

Another recent article in the Shanker Blog (photo below) discusses why the “College for All” concept just doesn’t make sense and offers viable alternatives.  

CTE blog

A university experience may be perfect for some, but certainly not all. Let’s work together to change the conversation to CAREER and College Readiness by strengthening CTE. Join with us to encourage other leaders and legislators to support funding to increase CTE in all schools. When students find the curriculum engaging and relevant, they stay in school and make better choices for their post-secondary experience. 

If you would like to see a list of my sources for the statistics, please send an email to bud@paxpat.com.


Mr. Johnson has been actively involved in CTE for 32 years. He has presented to educators at numerous state and national conventions and in six foreign countries. He currently serves on the Publishers’ Coalition for the National Consortium for Health Science Education. PAXTON/PATTERSON is a leading company championing CTE programs.