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Vocational education in the United States

Vocational education in the United States varies from state to state. Vocational schools, also popularly known as trade schools, are post-secondary schools (students usually enroll after graduating from high school or obtaining their GEDs) that teach the skills necessary to help students acquire jobs in specific industries. The majority of postsecondary technical and vocational training is provided by proprietary (privately-owned) career schools. About 30 percent of all credentials in career training are provided by two-year community colleges, which also offer courses transferable to four-year universities. Other programs are offered through military technical training or government-operated adult education centers.[1]

Several states operate their own institutes of technology, which are on an equal accreditational footing with other state universities.

Ana Barrows teaches a cooking class for adults in 1913 St. Louis, Missouri, in this sketch by Marguerite Martyn.

Historically, middle schools and high schools have offered vocational courses such as home economics, wood and metal shop, typing, business courses, drafting, construction, and auto repair. However, for a number of reasons, many schools have cut those programs. Some schools no longer have the funding to support these programs, and schools have since put more emphasis on academics for all students because of standards based education reform. School-to-Work is a series of federal and state initiatives to link academics to work, sometimes including gaining work experience on a job site without pay.[2]


Differences between vocational schools and traditional collegesEdit

The biggest difference between vocational school and traditional college is the amount of time students need to complete their education. Most vocational schools offer programs that students can complete in about one or two years. Students attending traditional colleges often take four to five years to complete their education. Traditional colleges also require students to complete a liberal arts education. Students must enroll in a broad range of courses that are not necessarily related to their area of study. Vocational schools require students to enroll only in classes that pertain to their particular trades.[3]

National programsEdit

Federal involvement is carried out principally through the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act. Accountability requirements tied to the receipt of federal funds under the act help to provide some overall leadership. The Office of Vocational and Adult Education in the US Department of Education also supervises activities funded by the act, along with grants to individual states and other local programs.[4] Persons wishing to teach vocational education may pursue a Bachelor of Vocational Education, which qualifies one to teach vocational education.

The Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) is the largest private association dedicated to the advancement of education that prepares youths and adults for careers. Its members include CTE teachers, administrators, and researchers.


There is, however, an issue with vocational or "career" schools that have national accreditation, instead of regional accreditation. Regionally-accredited schools are predominantly academically oriented, non-profit institutions.[5][6] Nationally-accredited schools are predominantly for-profit and offer vocational, career, or technical programs.[5][6] Every college has the right to set standards and refuse to accept transfer credits. However, if students have gone to a nationally-accredited school, transferring credits or even obtaining credit for a degree earned may be particularly difficult to transfer credits (or even credit for a degree earned) if they then apply to a regionally-accredited college. Some regionally-accredited colleges have general policies against accepting any credits from nationally-accredited schools. Others are reluctant to do so because they feel that nationally-accredited schools have lower academic standards than their own or because they are unfamiliar with a particular school. Students who plan to transfer to a regionally-accredited school after studying at a nationally-accredited school should ensure that they will be able to transfer the credits before they attend the latter school.[5][6][7][8]

There have been lawsuits regarding nationally-accredited schools that lead prospective students to believe that they would have no problem transferring their credits to regionally-accredited schools, most notably Florida Metropolitan University and Crown College, Tacoma, Washington.[9][10][11] Schools that have been targeted but not been found guilty include University of Phoenix and Vatterott College.[12]

The US Department of Education has stated, however, that its criteria for recognition of accreditors "do not differentiate between types of accrediting agencies, so the recognition granted to all types of accrediting agencies — regional, institutional, specialized, and programmatic — is identical." However the same letter states also that "the specific scope of recognition varies according to the type of agency recognized."[13]

Job retrainingEdit

In many states, vocational training is available to workers who have been previously laid off or whose previous employer is defunct. Such training was expanded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Though results have been, for the most part, inconclusive, job retraining programs have been noted to retain a positive effect on employee morale. Even in cases of displacement, those who underwent job retraining programs exhibited a more positive outlook on their circumstances than those employees who did not partake in job retraining programs. Several studies have also suggested that for layoffs, employees who remain with the company exhibit positive morale and are more motivated in their work environment if the layoffs are handled effectively by the company.

Job retraining programs in the United States are often criticized for their lack of proper focus on skills that are required in existing jobs. A 2009 study by the US Department of Labor showed that the difference in earnings and the chances of being rehired between those who had been trained and those who had not was small.[14]


In the early 20th century, a number of efforts were made to imitate German-style industrial education in the United States.[15] Researchers such as Holmes Beckwith described the relationship between the apprenticeship and continuation school models in Germany and suggested variants of the system that could be applied in an American context.[16] The industrial education system evolved, after large-scale growth after World War I, into modern vocational education. This CTE (Career Technical Education) Historical Timeline illustrates thar evolution:

  1. Vocational education was initiated with the passing of the Smith-Hughes Act in 1917, set up to reduce the reliance on foreign trade schools, improve domestic wage earning capacity, reduce unemployment, and protect national security.
  2. Around 1947, the George-Barden Act expanded federal support of vocational education to support vocations beyond agriculture, trade, home economics, and industrial subjects.
  3. The National Defense Education Act, signed in 1958, focused on improving education in science, mathematics, foreign languages, and other critical areas, especially in national defense.
  4. In 1963, the Vocational Education Act added support for vocational education schools for work-study programs and research.
  5. The Vocational Education Amendments of 1968 modified the Act and created the National Advisory Council on Vocational Education.
  6. The Vocational Education Act was renamed the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act in 1984.
  7. Amendments in 1990 created the Tech-Prep Program, designed to coordinate educational activities into a coherent sequence of courses.
  8. The Act was renamed the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006.

CTE provides opportunities to earn certificates and degrees that teach in-demand skills but provide a fast track to the work force. Unlike the former "vocational" programs, CTE programs and degrees are meant to be academic and stackable. They bear credits, and individuals can build on to them through continued education. These programs can span from culinary arts and hospitality management to fire science, computer science, and nursing. However, all offerings include a one-year certificate or two-year degree and with a high-skilled hands-on learning experience.

New York City's CTE high schoolsEdit

In 2008, the New York City Department of Education began to rethink vocational training in high schools.[17][18] Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in his State of the City 2008 address, said, "This year, we're going to begin dramatically transforming how high school students prepare for technical careers in a number of growing fields. Traditionally, such career and technical education has been seen as an educational dead-end. We're going to change that. College isn't for everyone, but education is. Building on work by the State Education Department, we'll do what no other public school system in the nation has done- create rigorous career and technical programs that start in high schools and continue in our community colleges"[19][20] A hallmark of New York City public education is school choice. One category of schools students could choose since the early 20th century has been the vocational high school.[21][22] In recent years, several new CTE high schools have been started in New York City[18] or reforged with a new perspective.[17] The idea behind this reconfiguration of CTE is that vocational positions are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and a high school degree will not be sufficient training. Future vocational technicians will need college training. The new CTE schools prepare students for success college in addition to providing a vocational certification.[23] A new vocational high school, called City Polytechnic High School, will allow students to take college courses while still in high school. While many high schools in New York City offer college courses as part of their curriculum, City Poly, as the school is known, is the first to offer programs in technical fields.[24] Students will graduate in five years, instead of the usual four, with a high school diploma and an associate degree.

Some New York City Career Technical Education (CTE) schools are the following:

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Karen Levesque; et al. (July 2008). Career and Technical Education in the United States (PDF). Washington: United States Department of Education. p. 78.
  2. ^ "elaws-Fair Labor Standards Act Advisor". Retrieved 14 December 2012.
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Program/Initiatives". Office of Vocational and Adult Education. Retrieved 25 November 2009.
  5. ^ a b c "Types of Accreditation, Education USA website". Archived from the original on 2008-04-24. Retrieved 2011-03-19.
  6. ^ a b c What is the Difference Between Regional and National Accreditation, Yahoo! Education website
  7. ^ Demanding Credit, Inside Higher Education website, dated Oct. 19, 2005 by Scott Jaschik
  8. ^ Tussling Over Transfer of Credit, Inside Higher Education website, February 26, 2007 by Doug Lederman
  9. ^ Student Takes on College and Wins, Seattle Times, February 24, 2006 by Emily Heffter and Nick Perry
  10. ^ Bad Education Orlando Weekly, April 14, 2005, by Jeffrey C. Billman
  11. ^ A Battle Over Standards At For-Profit Colleges, Wall Street Journal, October 3, 2005 by John Hechinger
  12. ^ "University Of Phoenix Facing Federal Review". The Huffington Post. Retrieved May 2015. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  13. ^ Carol Griffiths, US Department of Education Office of Post Secondary Education, letter dated August 30, 2007
  14. ^ Luo, Michael (July 5, 2009). "Job Retraining May Fall Short of High Hopes". The New York Times.
  15. ^ Geitz, Henry; Jürgen Heideking, Jurgen Herbst (1995). German Influences on Education in the United States to 1917. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  16. ^ Beckwith, Holmes (1913). German Industrial Education and its Lessons for the United States. Washington, D.C.: United States Bureau of Education.
  17. ^ a b "Microsoft Word — NYC CTE 7-28.doc" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-10-24.
  18. ^ a b "City to Open Vocational Schools". The New York Times. July 31, 2008.
  19. ^ "Mayor Bloomberg's 2008 State of the City Address". The New York Times. January 17, 2008.
  20. ^ [1] Archived March 1, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ "Aviation High School — Long Island City, New York". Retrieved 2012-10-24.
  22. ^ "John Bowne High School". Retrieved 2012-10-24.
  23. ^
  24. ^ Hernandez, Javier C. (March 19, 2009). "A New High School, With College Mixed In". The New York Times.

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