Cerner intern Austin Terry of Kansas City, Mo., is headed to Missouri University of Science and Technology. Terry worked in Cerner's software engineering area during the summer. (Fred Blocher/Kansas City Star/MCT)

Peggy Hinzman stands in the heart of today’s industrial-minded, technology-driven high school. She teaches in it. And even she has trouble getting the next word out of her mouth.

“Pharmacogenomics,” she says after a couple of tries.

“We get people into careers no one has ever heard of,” said Hinzman, who teaches at Summit Technology Academy in Missouri’s Lee’s Summit School District.

That includes pharmacogenomics, or the study of how an individual’s genetic inheritance affects the body’s response to drugs. It might be hard to pronounce … but it’s a rapidly expanding field, and one of several the academy is helping to prepare its students for.

As students begin heading back to school this month, some 14.5 million of them nationwide will be participating in career and technical education programs. And that doesn’t count the millions more entering general high school programs that organize their curriculum by career and industry themes.

For the most part, school systems have banished the stigma that used to follow the old “voc-tech” programs, which were blamed for targeting students not aiming for college.

Instead, the education world is embracing the marriage of classrooms with partners in business and industry—with both sides spurred on by economic realities. As a result, career and technical education is flourishing—and it’s a key part of President Obama’s focus on making sure students are ready for college or a career.

Already, more than half of the jobs waiting for graduates require some education after high school. And that number, according to research by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, will grow to two-thirds by 2018.

“We [public schools] are finally getting the message from the community and business and industry that we’re not producing what’s needed for the workforce,” said Linda Washburn, who directs a consortium of career and technology programs for six Missouri school districts.

At Summit Technology Academy, Hinzman and her students focus on bioscience—medicine and genetics.