According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than 1 million high school students in Texas are enrolled in career and technical education courses, previously called vocational education. These courses provide training in trade-specific technical and professional skills that will give the students immediate employment opportunities when they graduate, or prepare them to enter associate degree or certification programs after graduation.
Three faculty members in the College of Information's Department of Learning Technologies received $1.2 million from the Texas Education Agency's Career and Technical Education State Leadership Projects Grant Program to evaluate and increase the effectiveness of curriculum instruction in 11 of the 16 career clusters in career and technical education classified by the Department of Education.
UNT is one of four Texas universities to receive funding from the Texas Education Agency's Career and Technical Education State Leadership Projects Grant Program. The others were Stephen F. Austin, Texas A&M and Texas Tech Universities, with UNT receiving most of the funding.
Jeff Allen, interim chair of the Department of Learning Technologies, received $300,000 to conduct research on and enhance programs in architecture and construction; manufacturing; and science, technology, engineering and mathematics. He received another $300,000 to focus on programs in business management and administration; finance and marketing.
Jerry Wircenski, Regents Professor of learning technologies, received $300,000 to conduct research on and enhance programs in government and public administration; health science; and public safety, corrections and security.
Michelle Wircenski, professor of learning technologies, received $300,000 to focus on programs in the arts, audio/visual technology and communications; and information technology.
With the grant money, the professors will develop career-related course guides for schools focusing on career and technical education, including best practices in each career cluster.
The grant money also will support education of career and technical education teachers on revisions to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills curriculum for career and technical education. The State Board of Education was required to make the revisions, which will become effective this fall, after the Texas Legislature passed a bill in May 2007. The revisions require career and technical education programs to prepare students for high-skill, high-wage or high-demand occupations as identified by the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor.
Allen says career and technical education curricula begins in the third grade, with students studying different careers. More in-depth investigation of careers follows in middle school, and by high school, many students have opportunities for occupational training in specific fields.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, 88 percent of public high schools offer training in at least one career area, and many larger districts have separate high schools devoted to specific career fields, such as the Denton Independent School District's Sara & Troy LaGrone Advanced Technology Center.
While vocational education programs in the past were designed for students who would not be attending colleges or universities and needed to find jobs immediately after high school graduation, Allen says today's career and technical education programs provide more options.
Students who take the programs in high school prepare to earn associate degrees in their career fields from community colleges or enter specialized undergraduate programs at universities such as the bachelor of applied arts and sciences degree programs in both the Department of Learning Technologies and UNT's College of Public Affairs and Community Service. Both BAAS programs are designed for students who have completed occupational specializations or associate degrees at community colleges.
"Career and technical education provides career pathways that are less traditional than going straight from high school to a four-year university and declaring a major," Allen says.
Nancy Kolsti with UNT News Service can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.