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A strong online career and technical education program supports student interests and needs--and helps them carve out a path for future success

5 steps to building a robust online CTE program

A strong online career and technical education program supports student interests and needs--and helps them carve out a path for future success

For more than 16 years, my goal has been to help students discover their passions and see their potential through career and technical education (CTE). From when I taught math and programming in a brick-and-mortar school, to creating and designing CTE courses, to teaching AP computer science and the foundations of programming at Florida Virtual School (FLVS), to now researching, developing, and maintaining the FLVS CTE program alongside my incredible colleagues, CTE has never been more important to me. 

You may be asking yourself, why are you so passionate about CTE? The short answer is that during my teaching career, I quickly learned that some students do not want to go to college. Rather than forcing them to do something that their skills sets, talents, and desires don’t align with, I encouraged them to explore their passions to see if they could turn it into a career later in life. All students deserve the opportunity to do what they love, and it’s our jobs, as educators, to help them get there. 

Additionally, according to the U.S. Department of Education, eight years after their expected graduation date, students who focused on career and technical education courses in high school had higher median annual earnings than students who did not. There are also 30 million jobs in the United States that do not require a bachelor’s degree that pay median earnings of $55,000 or more, further highlighting how CTE programs can set students up for success. 

If you are a teacher, administrator, technology coordinator, or an education leader interested in building a robust online CTE program that helps your students succeed, I want to help you do that. 

  1. Understand your students 

It is one thing to build a CTE program, but it is another to design a program that includes courses that interest your students, and that they can use and implement in their future. First, you need to consider the area that you live in. If you live in a rural community, there may not be as many coding jobs as there are in agricultural science. 

After considering the area that you live in, then it’s time to get your students’ thoughts and opinions. Start by sending out surveys, hosting focus groups, and engaging with your instruction staff to gauge what their students are interested in. The more you hear from your students, the better and more successful your CTE program will be. 

  1. Reach out to your community 

It’s also important to connect with business partners in the community to understand what jobs they need help filling. For example, maybe you’re considering adding a CTE course related to hospitality and tourism, but after speaking with local hotel general managers you learn that they’re seeing a decline in the number of guests visiting, and therefore do not need to hire more staff. 

You also need to make sure that there are post-secondary institutions in your area that include programs that match up with the courses you want to add, so that students can continue following their passions in a technical college, community college, or university. 

  1. Research budgeting and grants 

CTE programs are largely funded through grants – whether through the state, district, or nation. There are a lot of rules and regulations for districts and states, as well as at the national level. Due to the amount of research and time this can take, I recommend hiring a grant expert/officer who can take a deep dive researching grants to help fund your program. 

If there is one grant I can recommend you focus on first, it is the Carl Perkins Grant. This is a big part of my job at Florida Virtual School, and one that is critical to getting your program off the ground. 

  1. Partner with career and technical student organizations (CTSOs) 

DECA, FFA, and HOSA. These are just a few of the student organizations that are available today. By partnering with these organizations, you are giving students the opportunity to grow in the field they want, as well as build soft skills that are critical to the workforce. 

These organizations can also help students build their confidence and self-esteem by having them participate in competitive events at the state, local, and national levels. For example, DECA has a competitive event program that evaluates students in the career clusters of business management, finance, marketing, and hospitality and tourism through a written component, plus an interactive component with an industry professional serving as a judge. These organizations provide a great way for students to get involved and network outside of the online classroom. 

  1. Never stop refining the program 

Every year, you should look at your courses and program and do these steps all over again. That way, you are constantly making sure the courses you offer are helping students reach their goals. 

For example, what if five years after you add a CTE course about accounting and microeconomics, finance jobs aren’t available? You will need to take another look at these courses to see if they make sense for the future of your students. 

When I think about the importance of having a CTE program, I think of one of my students who dropped out of their brick-and-mortar school because they were struggling to keep up. He came to Florida Virtual School to finish high school and enrolled in my foundations of programming class. He became so passionate about programming through my class that it helped him finish school and get excited about his future. 

Seeing that growth and excitement in students when they discover something they love is a feeling I will never forget, and one that we as educators should always fight for. 

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