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A Phenomenological Study Examining the Experiences of High School Graduates Who Participated in A Career and Technical Education Program of Study

Authors:
A PHENOMENOLOGICAL STUDY EXAMINING THE EXPERIENCES OF HIGH SCHOOL
GRADUATES WHO PARTICIPATED IN A CAREER AND TECHNICAL EDUCATION
PROGRAM OF STUDY
by
Camille Locklear Goins
Liberty University
A Dissertation Presented in Partial Fulfillment
Of the Requirements for the Degree
Doctor of Education
Liberty University
2015
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A PHENOMENOLOGICAL STUDY EXAMINING THE EXPERIENCES OF HIGH SCHOOL
GRADUATES THAT PARTICIPATED IN A CAREER AND TECHNICAL EDUCATION
PROGRAM OF STUDY
by Camille L. Goins
A Dissertation Presented in Partial Fulfillment
Of the Requirements for the Degree
Doctor of Education
Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA
2015
APPROVED BY:
Tracey Pritchard, Ed.D, Committee Chair
Dan Pritchard, Ed.D, Committee Member
Patricia Powell, Ph.D., Committee Member
Scott Watson, Ph.D., Associate Dean, Advanced Programs
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ABSTRACT
Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs are designed to help prepare students to
become effective workers by equipping them with college and career readiness skills needed for
the 21st century workplace. Students who participate in a CTE Program of Study (POS) have
the potential for greater success during and after high school because they have achieved
academic success in meeting the college and career readiness targets that lead to success in post-
secondary and career training. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to describe the
experiences of graduates from one high school in the southwest region of North Carolina who
participated in a CTE POS. Through the use of documents, interviews, and a focus group the
perceptions from 10 participants who participated in a CTE POS during high school were
examined. The data gathered in this study was analyzed using the procedures of a hermeneutical
phenomenology to gain a thick, rich understanding of participant experiences. Four themes
emerged during the research process. The four themes were (a) The learning process was
enhanced; (b) Influences on decision-making; (c) Learning with understanding supports
knowledge use in new situations; and (d) Guidance and advisement needs to be purposeful. This
study found that the participant’s learning process was enhanced through participation in a CTE
POS, they were able to transfer learning to a variety of context that increased their readiness for
college and their future career. The implications are discussed and recommendations are
provided to educators along with recommendations for further research.
Keywords: college and career readiness, career development, Career and Technical
Education (CTE), career pathways, dual enrollment, experiential learning, career theory,
constructivism, guidance and advisement, programs of study (POS), secondary and post-
secondary education.
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Dedication
I dedicate this dissertation to my family. Without your unwavering love, support, and
encouragement, I never could have achieved this milestone in my life. To my husband Kevin,
who is my best friend. You have stood by me, celebrated with me, and have been a shoulder for
me to cry on. I never could have achieved this goal without you there and this is as much your
accomplishment as it is mine. To my four children Brittany, Emily, Caleb, and Kennadie.
Thank you for the many kisses, hugs, and whispers of “I Love You”, when you saw me
overwhelmed from working many late nights and knew that I just needed to feel the love of my
children. To my mother and father who have instilled in me a strong work ethic and have helped
me to persevere even in the face of adversity. Thank you for believing in your little girl. To my
sister and brother, who have taken care of your little sister over the years. Thank you for always
looking out for me to ensure that I was doing well. To all my extended family and friends.
Thank you for always being there when I needed you.
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Acknowledgments
First, I thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I could not have begun or completed this
journey without His presence in my life and with Him, I believe all things are possible. My faith
in God has helped me to believe that we all have a designed purpose in this life and that one
person can make a difference; I hope to be that person in Christ. Philippians 4:13, “I can do all
things through Christ which strengthens me”.
This dissertation would not have been possible without the guidance and support of so
many instrumental people in my life. To my committee, this group has truly been a Godsend
during this process. I truly believe that God placed my committee together because He knew
that I needed a strong group of individuals who have faith in Him and could provide the
guidance I needed to ensure that this work was mastered. To my chair, Dr. Tracey Pritchard,
committee members Dr. Dan Pritchard, Dr. Patricia Powell, and Dr. Frederick Milacci, thank
you for all that you have done to see that I was successful on this journey.
To my mentors over the years who have encouraged me and helped me to challenge
myself. You have inspired me to become the leader I am today, so to them I am grateful. To Dr.
Fannie Mason, thank you for your wisdom and knowledge. So many times you have helped to
redirect my focus so that I could complete this massive task while continuing to be productive in
the workplace. To Mr. DeRay Cole, it was you that challenged me to another level. You
believed that I could do more and you allowed me to work alongside you to teach me so much as
a leader. To my 12th grade English teacher, Ms. Altman, thank you for so many years ago
helping me to look deep inside a lost and broken girl to find that I had the potential to become
whatever I wanted. You encouraged me, you listened, you provided guidance, and you
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ultimately helped me to become the writer I am today. Thank you for allowing me to share my
story!
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Table of Contents
ABSTRACT .................................................................................................................................... 3
Dedication ....................................................................................................................................... 4
Acknowledgments........................................................................................................................... 5
List of Tables ................................................................................................................................ 13
List of Abbreviations .................................................................................................................... 14
CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION .......................................................................................... 16
Overview ....................................................................................................................................... 16
Background ................................................................................................................................... 17
Situation to Self............................................................................................................................. 25
Problem Statement ........................................................................................................................ 26
Purpose Statement ......................................................................................................................... 27
Significance of the Study .............................................................................................................. 28
Research Questions ....................................................................................................................... 29
Research Plan ................................................................................................................................ 31
Delimitations and Limitations....................................................................................................... 32
Definitions..................................................................................................................................... 32
Summary ....................................................................................................................................... 34
CHAPTER TWO: LITERATURE REVIEW .............................................................................. 35
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Overview ....................................................................................................................................... 35
Theoretical Framework ................................................................................................................. 35
Constructivist Theory........................................................................................................ 36
Career Theory ................................................................................................................... 37
Experiential Learning Theory ........................................................................................... 39
Related Literature .......................................................................................................................... 41
Background of CTE .......................................................................................................... 41
Career and Technical Education ....................................................................................... 44
Factors Influencing CTE ................................................................................................... 49
The Influence of CTE Programs of Study in Secondary Education ................................. 58
Summary ....................................................................................................................................... 68
CHAPTER THREE: METHODS ................................................................................................ 71
Overview ....................................................................................................................................... 71
Design ........................................................................................................................................... 71
Research Questions ....................................................................................................................... 72
Setting ........................................................................................................................................... 72
Participants .................................................................................................................................... 73
Procedures ......................................................................................................................... 76
The Researcher’s Role .................................................................................................................. 77
Data Collection ............................................................................................................................. 80
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Interviews .......................................................................................................................... 81
Focus Group ...................................................................................................................... 84
Document Analysis ........................................................................................................... 85
Data Analysis ................................................................................................................................ 86
Epoche/Bracketing ............................................................................................................ 86
Memoing and Coding ....................................................................................................... 86
Horizonalization ................................................................................................................ 88
Trustworthiness ............................................................................................................................. 88
Triangulation ..................................................................................................................... 89
Member Checking ............................................................................................................. 89
Peer Review ...................................................................................................................... 90
Ethical Considerations .................................................................................................................. 90
Summary ....................................................................................................................................... 91
CHAPTER FOUR: FINDINGS .................................................................................................... 92
Overview ....................................................................................................................................... 92
Participant Summary ......................................................................................................... 92
Participants .................................................................................................................................... 93
Alexis ................................................................................................................................ 93
Connor............................................................................................................................... 94
Hannah .............................................................................................................................. 94
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Ethan ................................................................................................................................. 95
Victoria ............................................................................................................................. 95
Kayla ................................................................................................................................. 96
Emily ................................................................................................................................. 96
Kiera .................................................................................................................................. 97
Tyler .................................................................................................................................. 97
Elizabeth ........................................................................................................................... 98
Results ......................................................................................................................................... 100
Themes ........................................................................................................................................ 100
The Learning Process was Enhanced .............................................................................. 100
Influences on Decision-Making ...................................................................................... 115
Learning with Understanding Supports Knowledge Use in New Situations .................. 124
Guidance and Advisement Needs to be Purposeful ........................................................ 137
Research Question Results .......................................................................................................... 144
Summary ..................................................................................................................................... 147
CHAPTER FIVE: DISCUSSION, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATIONS ............ 149
Overview ..................................................................................................................................... 149
Summary of Findings .................................................................................................................. 149
Research Question One Findings .................................................................................... 151
Research Question Two Findings ................................................................................... 152
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Research Question Three Findings ................................................................................. 153
Research Question Four Findings ................................................................................... 153
Discussion ................................................................................................................................... 154
Implications of the Theoretical Framework .................................................................... 155
Implications of the Literature.......................................................................................... 157
Implications................................................................................................................................. 160
Practical Implications.................................................................................................................. 161
Recommendations for District Leaders and Administrators ........................................... 161
Recommendations for School and Career Counselors .................................................... 162
Recommendations for Teachers ...................................................................................... 165
Limitations .................................................................................................................................. 166
Recommendations for Future Research ...................................................................................... 167
Summary ..................................................................................................................................... 168
REFERENCES ........................................................................................................................... 170
APPENDICES ............................................................................................................................ 187
Appendix A: IRB Approval ........................................................................................................ 187
Appendix B: District Approval Letter ........................................................................................ 188
Appendix C: Participation Invitation Letter ............................................................................... 189
Appendix D: Informed Consent .................................................................................................. 191
Appendix E: FERPA Release ..................................................................................................... 195
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Appendix F: Interview Guide ..................................................................................................... 196
Appendix G: Focus Group Questions ......................................................................................... 197
Appendix H: Emails .................................................................................................................... 198
Appendix I: Selected Interview Quotations ................................................................................ 200
Appendix J: Expected Interview Responses ............................................................................... 214
Appendix K: Sample Interview Journal Reflective Entry .......................................................... 216
Appendix L: Sample Journal Entries .......................................................................................... 218
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List of Tables
Table 1. Participant Information…………………………………………………………………76
Table 2. Participant CTE Program of Study…………………….…………………………...…..99
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List of Abbreviations
Annual Measurable Objective (AMO)
Advanced Placement (AP)
Adequate Yearly Progress AYP)
Comprehensive Articulation Agreement (CAA)
Computer-aided Drafting (CAD)
Career and College Promise (CCP)
College and Career Readiness (CCR)
Common Core State Standards (CCSS)
Common Career Technical Core (CCTC)
Career Development Plan (CDP)
Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
Center for Occupational Research and Development (CORD)
Career and Technical Education (CTE)
Career and Technical Student Organization (CTSO)
Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)
End of Grade (EOG)
Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA)
CTE Student Organization for Agricultural Education students (formerly known as Future
Farmers of America) (FFA)
Health Occupations Student Association (HOSA)
High School That Works (HSTW)
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Local Education Agency (LEA)
National Association of State Directors of Career and Technical Education Consortium
(NASDCTEc)
National Center for Construction Education Research (NCCER)
National Education Association (NEA)
National Technical Honor Society (NTHS)
Project Lead the Way (PLTW)
Program of Study (POS)
Pathways to Prosperity (PtP)
CTE Student Organization for Trades and Industry students (formerly known as VICA – the
Vocational Industrial Clubs of America) (Skills USA)
Standards of Learning (SOL)
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)
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CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION
Overview
Career and Technical Education (CTE) Programs, formerly known as Vocational
Education, help to prepare students for a variety of post-secondary opportunities, equipping
students in high school with the necessary knowledge and skills that prepare them for high-tech,
high-wage careers available in today’s workforce. According to Harvard’s Pathways to
Prosperity Report (2011),
One of the most fundamental obligations of any society is to prepare its adolescents and
young adults to lead productive and prosperous lives as adults. This means preparing all
young people with a solid enough foundation of literacy, numeracy, and thinking skills
for responsible citizenship, career development, and lifelong learning. (p. 1)
A comprehensive Program of Study (POS) that encompasses CTE and academic courses as well
as a variety of opportunities to earn college credits and certifications, provides students with
relative college and career readiness skills that are necessary for 21st century careers.
The CTE POS presents students with multiple pathways to success. The Harvard
Graduate School of Education Pathways to Prosperity Report (2011) describes a POS as an
essential component of public education that prepares students for career opportunities in a
variety of avenues. The reauthorization of Perkins IV (Carl D. Perkins CTE Act of 2006)
requires each CTE program to offer at least one pathway and/or program of study that leads to
careers and post-secondary opportunities (Lewis, Kosine, & Overman, 2008; Meeder &
Suddreth, 2012; U.S. Dept. of Education, n.d.a). Providing students with the opportunity to earn
industry-recognized credentials and post-secondary credits are a part of the program of study
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model and is necessary for a successful POS (Alfeid & Bhattacharya, 2013; Hammond, Mobley,
Sharp, Stipanovi, Stringfield, & Withington, 2012).
As the nation progresses towards the need for a more comprehensive program to be
available in the public school system, failure to recognize the significance of CTE programs
continues to be a growing problem (Meeder & Suddreth, 2012). Failing to recognize the value of
CTE threatens to eliminate up to 15% of the federal funds that are provided to CTE through the
Perkins Act (National Skills Coalition, 2013). According to the Association of Career and
Technical Education (ACTE) North Carolina State Profiles (2013), “North Carolina received
$32,524,684 for Fiscal Year 2013, $3 million less than in 2012 and $6.4 million less than in
2010. Of funds distributed to local programs, 67% go to secondary recipients and 33% to
postsecondary recipients” (p. 1). The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary
Education Act (ESEA) will provide formula grants that will require all states to provide high
quality assessments that align with the college and career readiness standards for math and
reading in addition to providing rigorous assessments in career and technical courses (Meeder &
Suddreth, 2012; US Dept. of Education, 2010).
In addition, the data supports the continuous improvement and offerings of CTE
programs in secondary education by examining the experiences of students who have
successfully participated in a CTE POS. This study also provides data to support the successful
implementation of a POS within public schools that better prepares students for post-secondary
opportunities and post-graduation options to increase CTE enrollment and completion.
Background
The need for a trade school that focused on providing students with skills was established
during the 19th century. During this time, private schools began offering opportunities for
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students to focus on business while public schools began to include vocational programs that
focused on manual training, commercial training, domestic science, and agriculture (Barlow,
1976). The beginning of CTE programs began in Europe with the development of some of the
most progressive educational movements throughout the world. John Jacques Rousseau
advocated that manual arts could serve as a means of mental training and thus paved the way to a
new era in vocational education, while Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, thought children should learn
not only to think, but be able to do, and hence that education should consist largely of manual
labor (as cited in Gutek, 2011). Pestalozzi thought that vocational training should be in all
school curricula (as cited in Gutek, 2011).
The constructivist theory suggests that individual experiences are developed when they
come in contact with existing knowledge (Ultanir, 2012). Dewey, one of the early
constructivists, believed that while it is impossible to prepare a child for a precise set of life
conditions, educators have the capacity to prepare students for their future by equipping them
with a set of skills to work economically and efficiently (as cited in Gutek, 2011). Being
conscientious of their surroundings can help students understand the demands of the workforce,
therefore grasping the content of the curricula. Since CTE programs provide real-world
applications, the curricula can expand curiosity that builds upon their interests.
Dewey, Pestalozzi, and Rousseau have inspired public schools to develop a
comprehensive structure that encompasses the arts, humanities, academics, and career education
that prepare students for a variety of opportunities beyond high school (as cited in Gutek, 2011).
Comprehensive high school programs charge educators with the responsibility of affording
students the opportunity to gain a greater perspective on all subjects in effort to increase
comprehension and applicable skills (Gutek, 2011). Along with the advances in vocational
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education, renowned programs have been introduced in CTE such as Project Lead the Way
(PLTW) which is the nation’s leading educational curricular program for Science, Technology,
Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education for middle and high school (PLTW, n.d.).
There is a movement toward career academies that focus on personalized learning communities
within a high school that centers on a career theme such as a Health Science Academy or
Information Technology (Harvard Pathways to Prosperity Report, 2011; U.S. Dept. of Education,
2012).
Experiential learning suggests that an individual will learn from doing or from partaking
in a direct experience with an activity. Kolb and Kolb (2005), drawing from the ideas of John
Dewey, popularized the experiential learning theory and the idea that an individual will learn
best by doing. Haltinner (2012) explains, “Engaging students by applying theory to practice is a
cornerstone of career and technical education” (p. 50). CTE programs are representative of the
experiential learning theory, where students are involved in project-based learning activities and
work-based learning. Work-based learning can include school-based enterprises, career-related
internships, field associated apprenticeships, and correlated volunteer opportunities that provide
a hands-on approach to learning by doing.
The reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Act of 2006 requires that eligible recipients of
funding provide at least one program of study that better prepares students for college and career
success. The components of Perkins better align secondary and post-secondary education
through the implementation of a POS for a diverse population by providing opportunities to gain
meaningful workplace readiness skills, college credits, and stackable credentials (National Skills
Coalition, 2013; US Dept of Education-Carl D. Perkins Act, n.d.). Bachofer, Betts, and Zau,
(2014) found in their study when evaluating the outcomes of a CTE program, student
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participants in the focus group indicated that there was not a typical CTE student, but that CTE
classes consist of a diverse population providing them with practical and personable skills, while
helping them to discover career options.
Alfeid and Bhattacharya’s (2013) study of a mature POS examined the implementation of
the policy at the local level by tracking a group of students as they progressed through their POS.
Over a three year period, 213 participants in this study were examined. According to Alfeid and
Bhattacharya (2013), “Thirty percent of the sample students continued in the same POS in either
college or work” (p. 28). They go on to say that participants indicated the benefits of their
participation in a POS during high school. Evidence was revealed through transcript analysis that
illustrated a positive correlation between academic and POS credits and their grades (Alfeid &
Bhattacharya, 2013).
In recent years, greater emphasis has been placed on the positive influence that CTE
programs afford to students. “Today’s best CTE programs do a better job of preparing many
students for college and career than traditional academics-only programs” (Harvard Pathways to
Prosperity Report, 2011, p. 25). In a report conducted by the Association for Career and
Technical Education (ACTE) State Profiles (2013) it was found that in North Carolina 94% of
students who completed the four-credit CTE pathway graduated from high school, as compared
to 80.4% for all graduates statewide. The effectiveness of CTE programs can be enhanced
through POS by aligning a rigorous academic course of study with career and technical
instruction (Brand, Browning, & Valent, 2013; Lewis et al., 2008; Meeder & Suddreth, 2012).
Castellano, Sundell, Overman, Richardson, and Stone (2014) found in their study of three school
districts that the increased number of CTE credits earned by students was associated with
graduation. Alfeid and Bhattacharya (2013) found in their study that the majority of the
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participants reported that they were motivated to stay in school by being enrolled in a POS,
which also helped them to make informed choices regarding college and career. According to
Jacques and Potemski (2014), “CTE teachers can prevent high school dropout by engaging
students in real-world learning opportunities and relevant, skill-based instruction; likewise,
students who participate in CTE courses and programs are less likely to drop out of school” (p.
5).
Advocates of CTE continue to face challenges in finding support for the program
(Pawlowski, 2014), which could be due primarily to the perception of CTE, once labeled as
vocational education or trades school (Hammond et al., 2012). CTE programs are
underrepresented where CTE leaders have not been given the opportunity to become directly
involved with the “Common Core State Standards (CCSS) implementation teams” (Meeder &
Suddreth, 2012, p. 7). On the other hand, as individuals continue to experience changes in the
economic structure where skills and abilities trump academic credits (Harvard Pathways to
Prosperity Report, 2011; Meeder & Suddreth, 2012), CTE will need to be viewed as a vital part
of the educational system because the program “serves the needs and interests of individuals and
the nation as a whole” (Martinez, 2007, p. 77).
CTE courses complement academic courses through structured POS that are relative to
the college and career readiness skills necessary for post-secondary education and employment
(Jacques & Potemski, 2014; Meeder & Suddreth, 2012; Strohschein, 2012; U.S. Dept. of
Education, 2012). With the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS),
educators have the opportunity to improve their instructional practice by digging deeper into the
content to make relative connections to the real-world where CTE plays a crucial role in
enhancing student’s literacy, math, and technical skills (Boccanfuso, Byrnes, & Neild, 2013;
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CCSS, n.d.; Meeder & Suddreth, 2012; U.S. Dept. of Education, n.d.). This approach to learning
provides the prospect for continuous integration of math, literacy, and technical content to
develop project-based learning along with college and career preparation. In North Carolina,
nearly 800,000 seats are filled daily with students in CTE programs (ACTE NC State Profiles,
2013), and across the United States up to 96% of students will complete at least one CTE course
in high school (Aliaga, Kotamraju, & Stone, 2012).
The purpose of a POS is to provide a seamless transition from secondary to post-
secondary and the workforce by closely relating students’ high school programs to align with the
career and college goals. When examining student experiences within a POS, Alfeld and
Bhattacharya (2013) found that students believed that the courses taken within their POS would
be useful to them later in life. Alfeld and Bhattacharya (2013) also found that students who took
more CTE courses within their chosen POS earned more math and science credits as well as an
increase in English standardized test scores.
The options offered in a POS present early opportunities for students to begin their
college studies. Castellano et al., (2014) found when examining student participants of a POS
that 60% of students indicated their chosen POS was closely related to their chosen college
pathway. According to Castellano et al., (2014), “less than half (48%) of comparison students
indicated that their post-high school studies would relate to their high school program” (p. 50).
According to Bachaofer et al. (2014), “The benefits of taking CTE coursework listed by students
were acquiring useful skills, making contacts, discovering career options, hands-on experience,
getting a jump start, clarifying college plans, and acquiring job experience” (p. 92).
Students typically work part-time jobs during high school, however, most of these roles
do not align with the students’ future career goals. Alfeld and Bhattacharya (2013) found that
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there was an increase in work-based learning opportunities such as internships or co-operative
education for students within their POS that was closely or somewhat related to their desired
career choice. Bachofer et al. (2014) found when asking students to describe the best ways to
offer career exploration and guidance opportunities, students suggested internships, job
shadowing, and field trips. Castellano et al. (2014) found that students who participated in a
POS were provided with experiences and opportunities that better prepared them for post-
graduation. Since work-based learning experiences can help to guide students when making
career choices later in their lives, these opportunities are incorporated into a POS.
In January 2013, North Carolina’s Governor Pat McCrory signed Senate Bill 14 that
establishes college and career endorsements as part of a high school student’s graduation process
beginning with the 2014-15 school year. Senate Bill 14 states,
A bill to be entitled an act to direct the state board of education to develop career and
college endorsements for high school diplomas, increase access to career and technical
education teachers in public schools, and to work with the state board of community
colleges to increase the number of students enrolling in Career and Technical Education
in high need employment areas (General Assembly of North Carolina Session, 2013).
There are a variety of reasons students enroll in CTE programs including self-direction,
guidance, and counseling programs (Allen, 2010) as well as family members, friends, and
effective communication regarding the advantages of CTE (Alfeid & Bhattacharya, 2013; Gene,
2010). On the other hand, POS offer more than just a program, but provide students with college
and career preparation aligning a rigorous course of study that spans from secondary to
postsecondary education (Castellano et al., 2014). Bachofer et al. (2014) found that students
viewed CTE pathway completers as having a greater advantage and being a step ahead upon
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graduation. Castellano et al. (2014) found that POS serves as a way to keep kids coming to
school while connecting to their future career interest. When examining the graduation rates of
CTE Concentrators, Shadden (2011) findings suggested a significant increase in the graduation
rate of CTE concentrators.
While research pertaining to the impact of CTE programs on student outcomes is not
new, studies regarding the impact of CTE POS are relatively new to the education arena. A
review of literature from multiple research databases yielded seven research studies concerning
the impact and outcomes of CTE programs (Aliaga, Castellano, Overman, & Sundell, 2012;
Alfeid & Bhattacharya, 2013; Bachofer et al., 2014; Boccanfuso et al., 2013; Castellano et al.,
2014; Hammond et al., 2012; Shumer, Stipanovic, & Stringfield, 2012). Of these studies, only
two examined student experiences in a CTE POS with a focus on student outcomes and policy
implementation and were quantitative in nature (Alfeid & Bhattacharya, 2013; Castellano et al.,
2014). This qualitative study took an in-depth look into the lived experiences of participants’
who participated in a CTE POS during high school. In doing so, this study examined the factors
that influenced their decision to participate in a CTE POS along with how those experiences
have impacted them since graduation.
By conducting a qualitative analysis of student experiences who participated in a CTE
program of study, this gained a greater perspective into the participants’ lived experiences (Van
Manen, 1990). Additionally, by examining student experiences, the results of this study adds to
the existing literature, providing resources to educators to increase participation in a CTE POS
that increases students’ college and career readiness while improving the overall educational
experience during high school.
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Situation to Self
I am passionate about education and the CTE Program. I enjoy working with school
personnel, students, and parents to help them gain a greater understanding regarding the
importance of making career goals early in life. I strongly believe that career development
provided to students early in life will help students make better informed decisions in the future
regarding their careers. Cinamon and Dan (2010) found that providing information about career
development to parents of preschool aged children could have a positive impact. Gandhi
expressed the belief that vocational education is an important part of the curriculum because it
accentuates the dignity of work (as cited in Gutek, 2011). Gene (2010) recommends that a career
development plan along with a CTE course sequence should be considered as a high school
requirement for graduation. The ultimate goal as educators is to ensure that students are able to
become productive members of society with regards to employability and self-sustainability.
Therefore, I believe CTE affords students the opportunity to learn and to gain the necessary skills
to be successful in whichever career they choose for their future.
As the researcher in this study, I used a qualitative hermeneutical phenomenological
approach to allow me to interpret the lived experiences of the participants who participated in a
CTE POS. The worldview framework was based upon social constructivism with a
philosophical belief system of ontological research (Creswell, 2013). This philosophical belief
allowed the researcher to embrace multiple realities from different perspectives of the
participating individuals in the study in efforts to begin to develop themes (Creswell, 2013) and
to capture the understanding of the phenomenon that was being studied (Van Manen, 1990).
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Problem Statement
Advances in technology have created a more demanding labor market. Recent studies
reveal that although there are currently 13 million unemployed Americans, nearly three million
jobs remain unfilled due to a lack of skills necessary for employment in highly advanced fields
such as engineering, advanced manufacturing, and technology (Daggett, 2013; U.S. Dept. of
Education, 2012). The writers of the Harvard Pathways to Prosperity Report (2011) discovered
that the once highly sought after four-year college degree may need to be reexamined and the
public school system should place focus on providing students with the knowledge and skills that
helps them to become college and career ready. Approximately half of the students graduate
from college within six years, while students from lower-income families have a completion rate
much lower at only 25% (Harvard Pathways to Prosperity Report, 2011; U.S. Dept. of
Education, 2012). While student high school transcripts indicate students are college-ready,
more than 60% of college freshmen are required to take remedial courses in reading and math
that are non-credit bearing (Castellano et al., 2014).
CTE Programs that offer credentials, certifications, and pathways to college are essential
to creating a highly skilled future workforce. Most students who receive vocational training
during high school have an increased chance of obtaining employment post-graduation (Allen,
2010; Harvard Pathways to Prosperity, 2011; U.S. Dept. of Education, 2012). Tillman and
Tillman (2008) found in their study of 1,066 members of the National Technical Honor Society
across the US, 57.1% CTE graduates are employed in their CTE career field explored in high
school. According to Kalchick and Oertle (2010), “While POS are articulated from secondary
through postsecondary education, there are multiple entry and exit points with numerous
opportunities for students to earn stackable credentials, certificates, and degrees” (p. 2).
27
Despite numerous studies that suggest students who participate in a CTE POS have
positive outcomes (Alfeid & Bhattacharya, 2012/2013; Harvard Pathways to Prosperity Report,
2011; Kalchick & Oertle, 2010; Lekes et al., 2007), of the 500,000 students who participate in
CTE programs annually in grades 6-12, the problem is less than 50% of high school seniors
graduate as a CTE completer (ACT Career Solutions, 2014; NCDPI News Release, 2014)
fulfilling one of the requirements of a program of study. There were 92,106 students who
graduated from high in North Carolina in 2014 with approximately 40,000 of those students
graduating as a CTE Completer (ACT, 2014; NCDPI News Releases, 2014). There are other
studies that have focused on the effects of CTE programs on academics and career placement
(Aliaga, Castellano et al., 2012; DiCocco, Leach, Nelson, Packard, & Ruiz, 2012; Fletcher &
Zirkle, 2009; Garland, Jonas, & Yamaguchi, 2014), few studies (Alfeid & Bhattacharya, 2013;
Bachofer et al., 2014; Castellano et al., 2014) have taken an in-depth look into the experiences of
students who have completed a CTE pathway in combination with a rigorous course of study that
is found in a CTE POS. The crux of the problem is that while there is a high number of students
who are enrolled in CTE courses, few students participate in a CTE Program of Study and
complete a CTE concentration. The researcher of this study sought to address the gap in
literature that examined the experiences and perceptions of graduates who have successfully
participated in a CTE POS during high school and completed a CTE concentration.
Additionally, the researcher explored factors that contributed to their participation in a CTE POS
along with how those experiences have impacted them since graduation.
Purpose Statement
The purpose of this phenomenological study was to describe the experiences of graduates
from one high school in the southwest region of North Carolina who participated in a CTE POS.
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This research study focused on the subjective beliefs, attitudes, and values of CTE completers at
one high school in the southwest region of North Carolina who participated in a CTE POS during
high school. The researcher of this study attempted to gauge the underlying principles that led to
student participation in a CTE POS while emphasizing their perceptions and experiences. The
information gathered can add to the existing quantitative data relative to the positive impact of
CTE completion. In this study the phenomenon of the experiences of CTE completers as
students and later as high school graduates were explored.
Significance of the Study
High-quality CTE programs afford students with the benefits of an integrated curriculum
of academic and technical content with focus on employability skills that aligns with employer
and labor market trends (Jacques & Ptemski, 2014; Meeder & Suddreth, 2012; U.S. Department
of Education, 2012). DiCocco et al. (2012) found that CTE programs provide students with a
skill therefore, immediate employment could be gained upon graduation. The increase in
employment opportunities for completers validates that a CTE POS can have a significant
increase in post-secondary options and workforce preparedness as opposed to non-CTE program
completers. The Perkins IV Act (2006) Performance Indicator Six (5S1) for secondary
placement proposes that 93.5% of CTE concentrators who left secondary education in the
previous school year will be in post-secondary education or advanced training, in military
service, or in employment in 2013-14; North Carolina’s state average for 2012-13 was 90%
(NCDPI Local Planning System, 2014). If more students while in high school participated in a
CTE POS this number could increase since a POS directly connects to post-secondary education
as well as the workforce through industry-recognized credentials.
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Although CTE programs are noted for their potential to offer students a variety of post-
graduation opportunities, CTE programs continue to face challenges from individuals indirectly
involved because curriculum and instruction is often isolated from the implementation process
(Meeder & Suddreth, 2012). In spite of the challenges, Martinez (2007) notes that CTE
programs should be viewed as an integral part of the educational system because the program
works to meet the needs and interest of individuals. CTE programs have been noted to play a
critical role in retaining students in school because they answer the questions that many students
have regarding the relevance and application of the content while making the connection to
realistic and profitable career goals (Castellano et al., 2014; Davis, 2012; Jacques & Ptemski,
2014; Meeder & Suddreth, 2012).
Since there is little empirical research examining student experiences and influences, the
results of this study could provide a deeper understanding of student experiences before, during,
and after their involvement with CTE while also determining if participation in a CTE POS
positively impacts student outcomes beyond high school. This study also explored the
contributing factors that helped to inform student decisions and choices in high school in relation
to student participation in a CTE POS. The findings from this study could prove beneficial to
schools in supporting student participation in a CTE program of study and increase the number
of CTE completers.
Research Questions
The following questions guided this study:
Research Question 1: How do high school graduates who participated in a Career and
Technical Education (CTE) POS in North Carolina describe their experiences in high school?
POS provide participants with a rigorous course of study that includes opportunities to earn post-
30
secondary credits and credentials aligned to the national 16 career cluster areas (CORD and
NASDCTEc 2012). POS provide multiple opportunities for participants to develop knowledge
and skills through exploration and an organized course selection that aids in transition (Kalchik
& Oertle, 2012). Jacques and Potemski (2014) found that students who are enrolled in CTE
programs have a decreased chance of dropping out of school. Students who have participated in
a CTE program of study will help to facilitate a better understanding of the overall high school
experience because of their potential to enter into post-secondary education, workforce, military,
and advanced training post-graduation leading to a variety of career pathways.
Research Question 2: What factors influenced the participants’ decision to participate in
a Career and Technical Education Program of Study? CTE course offerings are elective courses
and are self-selected by participants (Jacques & Potemski, 2014). Participation in a CTE POS is
not required for graduation purposes, therefore, gauging participant influences to participate in a
CTE POS will help to understand what factors contribute to student enrollment in CTE programs
and completion of a CTE concentration area.
Research Question 3: How do participants perceive Career and Technical Education’s
role in their secondary education experience? Past research suggest that students who participate
in CTE programs have increased engagement in school (Alfeid & Bhattacharya, 2013; Allen,
2010) through hands-on learning (Braley & Handy, 2012). Additionally, CTE programs provide
opportunities to a diverse population of students (Bachofer et al., 2014). Examining the
perception of CTE from a graduate’s point of view will add to our understanding how
participants view the program and its impact on their secondary educational experience during
and after participation.
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Research Question 4: What do participants attribute to their readiness for entrance to a
post-secondary institution and the workforce after graduating from high school? Participation in
a CTE POS has been known to produce positive outcomes for graduates (Alfeid & Bhattacharya,
2012/2013; Kalchick & Oertle, 2010; Harvard Pathways to Prosperity Report, 2011; Lekes et al.,
2007). Participants have an increased opportunity to earn post-secondary credits as well as
industry-recognized credentials (Castellano et al., 2014). Therefore, gaining a deeper
perspective of the factors that helped participants become college and career ready will provide
insight into what aids students in gaining immediate and successful entrance to a post-secondary
institution and the workforce. These factors could provide additional data to educators in this
field and enhance their pedagogical practices.
Research Plan
Since there is little research available on student experiences in a CTE POS, a qualitative
research design was used for this study. In a qualitative study, the researcher attempted to
answer a question through an in-depth examination of the subject (Creswell, 2013; Moustakas,
1994). Through the use of documents, interviews, and a focus group the perceptions of 10
participants who participated in a CTE POS during high school was examined.
This qualitative study used a hermeneutic phenomenological approach (Creswell, 2013;
Van Manen, 1990) to describe the experiences of graduate who participated in a CTE POS at one
high school in the southwest region of North Carolina. During the study, I examined participant
perceptions regarding their experiences with the program of study and influences on their
decision to enroll in CTE programs that led to the completion of a CTE career cluster pathway.
A qualitative approach to this study was the best approach since the study intended to examine
the experiences of students’ participation in the program rather than report data regarding student
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performance within CTE from a quantitative approach (Moustakas, 1994). This study included a
thorough analysis of multiple sources of literature to provide resources to stakeholders that will
increase knowledge and understanding of the CTE program that often goes under-recognized in
spite of efforts being made to increase support (Pawlowski, 2014). The experiences of
participants were examined by focusing on the wholeness and essence of the experiences and
shared phenomenon that could not be measured through quantitative means (Moustakas 1994).
Delimitations and Limitations
This study is delimited by the chosen methodology, participants, and site selection. The
site selection was restricted to one site location and this study was dependent on participants who
participated in a CTE POS while in high school at the chosen site location. Polkinghorne
suggest that 5-25 participants should be used when conducting phenomenological research (as
cited in Creswell 2013). Therefore, the researcher was able to include 10 participants. The
selected participants had completed four or more CTE courses within one CTE pathway with one
of those courses serving as the completer/second level course of a career cluster. Additionally,
each of these participants earned an industry-recognized credential and completed an articulated
course and/or a dual enrollment course. Selection criterion served to facilitate the understanding
of student experiences after participating in a CTE POS.
Definitions
1. Articulated Course – For the purpose of this study an articulated course consist of high
school CTE courses that are included in the North Carolina statewide articulation
agreement because the knowledge and skills taught within the curriculum are similar to
community college courses (North Carolina High School to Community College
Articulation Agreement, 2012).
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2. CTE Concentrator – For the purpose of this study CTE concentrators are those students
who have completed four courses within one CTE career cluster pathway with one of the
courses being a second level course (NC CTE Planning Guide, 2012).
3. Career Cluster Pathway For the purpose of this study a career cluster are those courses
within the CTE program that focus on occupations in the same field of work that require
similar skills and knowledge (O*NET Online, 2014).
4. College and Career Ready – For the purpose of this study college and career ready are
those students who have met the minimum academic readiness targets as demonstrated by
the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks for grades 8-12 on the EXPLORE, PLAN, ACT
and WorkKeys Assessment test and are more likely to be successful in post-secondary
education and training that leads to a career (ACT, 2010/2014).
5. CTE Completer – For the purpose of this study CTE completers are those students who
have completed four courses within a CTE career cluster pathway with one of the courses
being a second level course and have graduated from high school (NC CTE Planning
Guide, 2012).
6. CTE Programs of Study (POS) – For the purpose of this study CTE POSs are those
programs that integrate CTE courses with focus on a particular career cluster pathway
concentration area while also incorporating a rigorous academic curriculum,
opportunities to earn post-secondary credits through articulation and dual enrollment,
opportunities for work-based learning, and earned industry-recognized credentials. CTE
POS participants will be identified by the completion of a CTE career cluster pathway,
completion of an articulated and/or dual enrollment course and have earned at least one
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industry-recognized credential during high school. POS’s are central components of the
Carl D. Perkins Act 2006 for CTE (Shumer et al., 2012).
Summary
Research studies suggest that CTE programs have a positive impact on student outcomes
(Alfeid & Bhattacharya, 2012/2013; Kalchick & Oertle, 2010; Harvard Pathways to Prosperity
Report, 2011; Lekes et al., 2007). In recent years, CTE programs have placed greater emphasis
on not only encouraging student participation and increased engagement (Allen, 2010), but
providing students with knowledge and skills that expand beyond high school. CTE POS align a
rigorous secondary education plan that spans to college and career by offering students
opportunities to earn college credits as well as industry-recognized credentials (Castellano et al.,
2014).
The Carl D. Perkins CTE Act of 2006 requires each CTE program offer at least one
program of study that leads to careers and post-secondary opportunities (Alfeid & Bhattacharya,
2013; Lewis et al., 2008; Meeder & Suddreth, 2012; U.S. Dept. of Education, n.d.). Although,
participation in CTE programs is relatively high, the completion rate of a CTE program is less
than 50% (ACT, 2014; NCDPI News Release, 2014). Changes in the economy along with the
increasing demands of a qualified workforce will require that students upon graduation have
increased transferable employability skills that can provide immediate employment (as cited by
U.S. Department of Education Office of Vocational and Adult Education, 2012). Since there is
little research that examines student experiences in CTE POS, this qualitative research study
provides resources that could increase participation in CTE programs.
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CHAPTER TWO: LITERATURE REVIEW
Overview
Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs are designed to provide students with
real-world experiences that equip them with the necessary skills that better prepares them for
their future career. The negative stigma that was once attached to CTE programs is now a thing
of the past. In recent years the view of CTE has improved and this improvement can primarily
be attributed to the increase of CTE students who have increased post-secondary opportunities
through participation in a CTE program of study (Hammond et al., 2012). The Carl D. Perkins
Career and Technical Education Improvement Act of 2006 proposes, “By 2013-2014, 93.5
percent of CTE Concentrators who left secondary education in the previous school year will be
in postsecondary education or advanced training, in military service, or in employment”, North
Carolina reported 90% of CTE Concentrators in 2012-13 (as cite in the NCDPI CTE Local
Planning System, 2014). CTE programs have also shown an increase in the credentials and
certifications awarded to students who participate in CTE programs because CTE provides
quality technical and rigorous academic content (Aliaga, Kotamraju et al., 2012; NCDPI, n.d.;
US Dept. of Education, 2012).
Theoretical Framework
Learning is a continuous and life-long process that builds upon previous knowledge and
experiences. The way an individual learns is critical to their approach to various aspects within
their life. Information is not always retained, therefore, understanding different approaches to
the learning process can help to guide instruction and program offerings within the educational
system. Levin (2011) argues “Academic achievement is not the only important outcome of
schooling; we also value students’ ongoing ability to learn, interest in learning, abilities to work
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with others, and citizenship skill” (p. 90). This study is based on three influential theories in
history that are relative to the intensive nature of a CTE POS primarily because students are
engaged in hands-on learning that is practical and meaningful (Dewey, 1897). These theories
consist of the constructivist theory, the career theory, and the experiential learning theory.
Constructivist Theory
The constructivist theory suggests that experiences develop when students come in
contact with existing knowledge. John Dewey, one of the early constructivists, “believed that
children’s curiosity, interests, and activities led them to experimentation. Curious about their
environment, children are eager to explore it” (as cited in Gutek, 2011, p. 360). Dewey (1897)
also believed that observing the interests and abilities of children could help adults to understand
what the student was ready for, therefore, aligning curricula and work that the child could be
fruitful in accomplishing. CTE programs provide real-world applications that engage students in
hands-on activities, expanding their curiosity, and building upon their interests, while
successfully integrating academic core areas. These programs also present students with
accurate mental constructions of reality that coincide with the thoughts of cognitive
constructivists (Doolittle & Camp, 1999).
The constructivist learning theory is critical to education because educators have the
opportunity to help students begin to understand the content of the curriculum through
experiences. Cooperstein and Kocevar-Weidinger (2003) found that the constructivist approach
to learning can be defined in four general aspects: “Learners construct their own meaning; new
learning builds on prior knowledge; learning is enhanced by social interaction; and meaningful
learning develops through ‘authentic’ tasks” (p. 142). In a constructivist learning environment
students will be engaged in an activity in an effort to solve a problem where the instructor
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facilitates learning by providing the problem, but allowing the students to work (Cooperstein &
Kocevar-Weidinger, 2003). CTE classrooms are good illustrations of a constructivist learning
environment where students are actively engaged in real-world, project-based learning that
incorporates 21st century skills such as critical thinking, analyzing, and problem solving
(Castellano et al., 2014). According to Holzer, Linn, and Monthey (2013) “What really
distinguishes CTE from a more traditional academic program is the strong emphasis placed on
‘contextualized learning,’ in which even academic material is presented in the context of projects
or workplaces” (p. 10). Brand et al. (2013) posit “Through contextualized learning, students’
core content knowledge is enhanced and augmented, and they can immediately apply it to
problem solving” (p. 6).
Career Theory
Donald Super, a profound contributor to career development, espoused the original self-
concept career theory (as cited in Savickas, 2001). Three broad perspectives of career
development were approached by Super including the development to self-concept, the life
stages and developmental tasks that make up a career, and the breadth and richness of a career
(as cited in Salomone, 1996). However, Salomone (1996) notes the career development theory
began with Frank Parsons in the early 20th century and he was one of the first to use the term
vocational guidance when working with younger individuals. Super and Holland have produced
models of career development and social learning theories have stemmed from such theorist as
Albert Bandura (as cited in Salomone, 1996).
Career theories have provided the framework to help guide the career development
process in efforts to understand an individual’s career process over time (Lewis et al., 2008).
Super has contributed more than any other concerning vocational psychology and the
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development of career patterns (as cited in Savickas, 2001). In support of Super’s self-concept
career theory, Ochs and Roessler (2004) explain, that adults can face difficulty when
transitioning into their career role when they have failed to successfully complete the tasks
needed for career development during their adolescence. McComb-Beverage (2012) found that
students as young as 11 can actively engage in the career development process through career
exploration activities. Lewis et al., (2008) and Nevill (1997) found that an increase in career
development during the growth stage (age 13) can help students with identifying a wide range of
compatible occupations in the future. The career decision-making process continues to present
challenges; therefore, adaptability is necessary to career development as emphasized by Super
(as cited in Nevill, 1997; as cited in Lewis et al., 2008).
Emphasis on career development at an earlier age could positively impact students. While
there is limited research on the study of career development in preschool, Cinamon and Dan
(2010) found that parents need to believe that career development at the preschool age is
important. Planned activities with parents such as career week, exposing children to their world
of work, and guidance from counselors who assist students with decision making, anger
management, conflict resolution, self-esteem, and teamwork, are used to help parents understand
the importance of early emphasis on career development can help to achieve this goal. The early
stages of life, the growth stage, indicate that a child is in the curiosity stage that is often satisfied
through exploration. “Super defined the young developmental stage, the preschool age, as one
where the foundations for an individual’s vocational choices are formed. According to Super,
self-concept during this stage is developed through identification with key persons in the family
and school” (as cited by Cinamon & Dan, 2010, p. 520). Magnuson and Star (2000) found that
based on Super’s definition, the developmental theory and career development theory are
39
interrelated and should be combined to encompass both career and education in
preschool/elementary (as cited by Cinamon & Dan, 2010).
In the article “Tracing Super’s Theory of Vocational Development”, Salomone (1996)
discusses the history and development of Donald Super’s Theory of Vocational Development.
Super has been instrumental to the career development practice with over 40 years making
valuable contributions to career development and vocational psychology (Salomone, 1996). His
most important contributions into career development is the career model based upon the belief
that an individual’s self-concept changes over time and is developed as a result of experiences.
The model is depicted as a rainbow that “portrays the interaction of personal and situational
determinants that explain one’s career” (Salomone, 1996, p. 169).
Salomone (1996) explains, “A focus on the meaning of career from a sociological role
perspective was the essence of Super’s life-career rainbow model” (p. 178). The focus of a
career is concentrated on the sequences or roles played throughout a person’s lifetime. Careers
can also be described as a person’s work experiences evolved over time. Salomone (1996) traces
Donald Super’s theory of career development from 1953 to 1992 through published propositions.
Changes have occurred in the definition of career development over time as the conception of the
career has been constructed. The definition of career that was adopted by Arthur et al. (1989) is
“the evolving sequence of a person’s work experience over time” (as cited by Salomone, 1996, p.
181). However, Super (1992) defines careers as the sequence of occupations, jobs, and positions
throughout a person’s working life.
Experiential Learning Theory
Experiential learning suggests that an individual will learn from doing or from
partaking in a direct experience with an activity. The experiential learning theory applies
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theory to practice through career and technical education programs (Haltinner, 2012).
Therefore, CTE programs are representative of the experiential learning theory, where
students are involved in project-based learning activities and work-based learning to include
school-based enterprises and apprenticeships that provide this hands-on approach to learning
by doing.
Experiential learning theory stems from prominent theorists who studied human
learning and development including John Dewey, Kurt Lewin, Jean Piaget, and Paulo Freire
(Gutek, 2011). According to Kolb and Kolb (2005), the experiential learning theory is built
on the following six propositions:
1. Learning is best conceived as a process, not in terms of the outcome.
2. All learning is relearning.
3. Learning requires the resolution of conflicts between dialectically opposed modes of
adaptation to the world.
4. Learning is a holistic process of adaptation to the world.
5. Learning results from synergetic transactions between the person and the
environment.
6. Learning is the process of creating knowledge. Experiential learning theory proposes
a constructivist theory of learning whereby social knowledge is created and re-
created in the personal knowledge of the learner.
Focusing on the learning preference of individuals, mindfulness brings to light how
individuals understand and process information. Kolb and Yeganeh (2009) describe that
mindfulness prevents individuals from sleep walking through their lives. Mindfulness allows
an individual to view a situation from many perspectives. Generalizations are how the mind
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makes sense of complex environments. According to Kolb and Yeganeh (2009),
“Mindfulness can free the mind to intentionally think and create in a new way” (p. 16).
Mindfulness learning is important because an individual can cognitively represent and
manipulate their ideas. Mindfulness helps us understand processes by which the mind is aware,
intentional, and accepting. Kolb and Yeganeh (2009) explain “Engagement in thinking can be
enhanced by practicing theoretical model building and the creation of scenarios for action” (p.
17). Mindfulness learning can help to enhance career development by allowing individuals to
purposively consider their career choices. CTE, which is often stigmatized (Aliaga, Kotamraju
et al., 2012), will benefit from the mindfulness learning because this process will allow
individuals to view the program from a different perspective, which can aid in the process of
identifying a program of study that is relative to their career aspirations.
Related Literature
This literature review examines the experiences of high school students who have
participated in a CTE program of study by perusing related literature that identifies how students
perceive the program. I will also review related sources of literature in the area of career
development and other educational programs. The literature review will allow me to create a
platform that suggest the importance of CTE programs in secondary education when combined
with a rigorous academic course of study that enhances the learning process. Additionally,
creating a discussion that would examine other academic programs could help to explain the
resistance and limitations that CTE programs continue to face.
Background of CTE
The vocational age emerged in the late 19th century with agriculture and industrial arts.
U.S. Commissioner of Education Sidney Marland, Jr. popularized the term career education in
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1971 to express the need for reform to secondary education (as cited in Barlow, 1976). The
reauthorization of the 1998 Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education was first
authorized in 1984 formerly known as the Smith Hughes Act of 1917. In 2006 when the act was
reauthorized under the Bush Administration, the act was renamed to the Carl D. Perkins Career
and Technical Education Act of 2006 (U.S. Dept. of Education, n.d.a). Perkins is funded from
federal dollars with one of the requirements of the Perkins Act to ensure at least one program of
study is offered.
POSs are a growing movement for at least two-thirds of America’s youth whose long
term goals do not include graduating from a four-year college. Following the tech prep
programs, which was a mixture of secondary and post-secondary education, has evolved the
career clusters and career pathways initiative that aligns occupations into 16 national career
cluster areas (Center for Occupational Research & Development (CORD) and NASDCTEc,
2012). The requirements of Perkins IV continue to face challenges, therefore, in order for a POS
to be successful, four of the challenges specifically must be addressed. Those four challenges
include secondary and postsecondary elements, academic content alignment with career and
technical education, dual enrollment programs, and programs that lead to industry-recognized
credentials (Lewis, Stipanovic, & Stringfield, 2012). Addressing these challenges can help to
design a framework for a POS within educational institutions. Alfeid and Bhattacharya (2013)
suggest that while legislation requires the implementation of POS, the process could be
challenging, but worth the efforts when focusing on student success in post-secondary.
The current labor market has increased the need for school districts to focus on high
quality vocational education programs (NEA, 2012). NEA (2012) examined three quality
vocational educational programs to include Southeast Career Technical Academy in Clark
43
County, Nevada; New Castle County VoTech School District in Delaware; and Greater New
Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School in Massachusetts. Each of the districts
provide students with a career-focused program that offers work-based learning opportunities
including internships and work study. Southeast Career Technical Academy and New Castle
County VoTech School District offer students the opportunity to earn a high school diploma in
addition to college credits and career and technical certifications or professional licensure college
credits (NEA, 2012).
21st century America. During the 20th century, the structure of schools centered on
preparing students for acceptance into a four-year college. Concentrated efforts were made to
ensure students were able to perform on the end-of-grade standard achievement tests as well as
college readiness placement tests to meet the minimum college admission requirements. Santoro
(2011) found that good teaching was once hallmarked by connecting a student’s prior learning
experiences with new knowledge providing educators with a way to help students develop
higher-order thinking skills and to become problem solvers. However, this form of teaching has
been replaced by the demands of passing a test and pressures of achieving average yearly
progress (AYP). As a result, programs such as vocational education that accentuates hands-on
learning that provides a strong foundation in technical and career oriented skills, received less
focus. This lack of focus on our schools’ vocational programs have been attributed to our
current workforce where individuals have successfully obtained a college degree, yet they
remain ill equipped with advanced technical skills to meet the growing demands of the 21st
century labor market (Daggett, 2013; Harvard Pathways to Prosperity, 2011; US Dept. of
Education, 2010).
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Since 2012, there has been a growing effort to increase educational programs that can
help to prepare students for the increased demands of the workforce. As a result, the Center for
Occupational Research and Development (CORD) and the National Association of State
Directors of Career and Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEc) has encouraged CTE
directors across the nation to develop strong CTE programs through the development of multiple
career pathways (CORD & NASDCTEc, 2012). These pathways would align academic and
technical studies that lead to post-secondary institutions through the development of partnerships
between secondary educators, post-secondary institutions and business and industry.
Career and Technical Education
Career and Technical Education are those programs that prepare students in secondary
and post-secondary education with a wide range of skills to prepare them for high-wage, high-
wage careers (ACTE, n.d.). A successful CTE program that prepare students for high-tech, high-
wage career fields that integrates College and Career Readiness Standards would include
rigorous academic and technical content, project-based learning, student internships, the
opportunity for students to earn college credit, online career exploration and career and academic
guidance (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2010).
Career clusters and pathways. CTE concentrators focus on courses that are grouped
into career clusters and pathways that lead to a career. Career clusters consist of a group of
occupations with related skills and knowledge that are categorized into one of the 16 National
Career Clusters. The 16 National Career Clusters consist of the following:
Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources.
Architecture and Construction.
Arts, A/V Technology, and Communications.
45
Business Management and Administration.
Education and Training.
Finance.
Government and Public Administration.
Health Science.
Hospitality and Tourism.
Human Services.
Information Technology.
Law, Public Safety, Corrections, and Security.
Manufacturing.
Marketing.
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
Transportation, Distribution, and Logistics.
The national perspective of career clusters are that they should connect career development and
guidance to delivery systems requiring CTE programs to quit thinking as stand-alone and begin
thinking as part of a seamless system (NASDCTEc, n.d.). Career clusters require long-term
commitment of every partner in its role within the system and support workforce preparation and
economic development. There are more than 79 career pathways within the 16 national career
clusters that prepare works for a variety of occupations (CORD & NASDCTEc, 2012). Since all
careers fall within one of the career clusters, the pathways help to bring focus to an individual’s
career path and future career goals.
CTE has significantly increased its focus on science, technology, engineering, and
mathematics (STEM), becoming heavily invested in STEM concepts. Such program areas
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names reflect STEM including agriscience, family and consumer science, health science, and
technology engineering and design. About 80% of CTE courses include a significant STEM
component in the essential standards and about 25% of those are composed primarily of STEM
essential standards (North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, 2012). Association for
Career and Technical Education (2009) found that many students have not pursued STEM
related courses because they were unaware of individuals who are employed in these areas.
Therefore, academic and career advising in middle grades can help to shed light on these
underrepresented, but highly demanding career fields.
Students who participate in CTE programs have a greater advantage of obtaining
knowledge and skills to be successful for today’s demanding workforce saving business and
industries time and resources that would be normally dedicated to training. Wilson (2010)
explains “since the mid-1990s, businesses have been spending between $46 billion and $54
billion per year on job training, including trainee salaries, but excluding administrative and
overhead costs” (p. 1). Students who are given the opportunity to earn industry-recognized
credentials during high school are able to support the demands of the workforce. Educational
institutions that provide multiple opportunities for students to earn these credentials are
promoting a positive and sustainable economic system.
The definition of a CTE concentrator varies in different states across the nation (Aliaga,
Kotamraju et al., 2012). For federal reporting purposes, North Carolina defines a CTE
concentrator as a student who completes four CTE courses within one career cluster pathway,
with at least one of the courses being a level II course (North Carolina Department of Public
Instruction, 2012; NC State Plan, 2008). Therefore, the number of credits and sequence of
courses play a major role in a student’s high school years. To guide in the process of planning
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for high school, students are encouraged to complete a career interest inventory at the middle
school level. Guidance from school counselors and career development coordinators that clarify
instructional programs according to Perkins legislation can help students to begin to recognize
which courses in high school will best match their skills and abilities (Fedorchake, Shellhorn,
Wales, & Washer, 2013).
Nearly 96% of students complete a CTE course during high school (Aliaga, Kotamraju et
al., 2012), in 2013, North Carolina had over 800,000 seats filled each day in CTE classrooms.
With so many students participating in CTE programs, it is difficult to believe that the number of
CTE completers is dismally low. Boccanfuso et al., (2013) found in their study of the academic
impact of career and technical schools that approximately 15% of the students within each cohort
completed three or more CTE courses during high school in the district, although 80% of
students attended a CTE school. With so many students participating in CTE programs, one
would assume that the CTE completion rate of CTE programs would be much higher. Therefore,
concentrated efforts to increase not only CTE participation, but completion are necessary to
ensure students are career ready as well as college ready.
College and career readiness. College and career readiness is a term that has been
widely used over the past few years in regards to our educational systems. College and career
ready students have the necessary knowledge and skills in reading and math without the need for
remediation in a postsecondary or job training institution necessary for their selected career. The
Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were designed to build a foundation towards college and
career readiness through the development of a common set of academic standards (CCSS, n.d.).
Effective with the 2013-2014 school year, the North Carolina State Board of Education
introduced the new achievement levels for End-of-Grade (EOG) assessments that measure a
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student’s college and career readiness beginning in grade three for reading and math that meet
the Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs) for federal reporting purposes (NCDPI
Accountability, 2014). The new measures help educators to identify students who may need
additional help to meet the college and career readiness standards in primary grades when
scoring below achievement levels four or five. Beginning in the eighth grade, North Carolina
uses ACTs College Readiness Assessment Explore (8th Grade), PLAN (10th Grade), and ACT
(11th Grade) and all CTE completers as seniors are assessed using the Career Readiness
Assessment WorkKeys (NCDPI Accountability, 2014).
With the introduction of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), educational systems
across the nation have a common set of standards and benchmarks to ensure students are on track
to graduate college and career ready. Similar to the Common Core State Standards, the National
Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEc) has
developed the Common Career Technical Core (CCTC). As the nation progresses to a highly
skilled workforce, having a common set of benchmarks within programs of study can ensure that
students in CTE programs are competitive. An overarching set of Career Ready practices are
included in the CCTC that are not limited to a single pathway, but apply to all programs of study.
NASDCTEc (2012) describes these twelve practices as follows:
Act as a responsible and contributing citizen and employee.
Apply appropriate academic and technical skills.
Attend to personal health and financial well-being.
Communicate clearly, effectively and with reason.
Consider the environmental, social and economic impacts of decisions.
Demonstrate creativity and innovation.
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Employ valid and reliable research strategies.
Utilize critical thinking to make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
Model integrity, ethical leadership and effective management.
Plan education and career path aligned to personal goals.
Use technology to enhance productivity.
Work productively in teams while using cultural/global competence.
Students who graduate from high school without meeting the college and career readiness targets
could be costly to our country’s global competitiveness (Blumenthal & Sambolt, 2013; Daggett,
2013; Wilson, 2010). Therefore, career development and counseling to secondary students is
essential to college and career readiness. Spielmaker (2013) argues “Career choices affect our
personal finances and our free time—greatly impacting and influencing how our life goals are
achieved and the economic security of the state and nation” (p. 1).
Factors Influencing CTE
Career development and advisement. The Carl D. Perkins Act (2006) specifies that
local education agencies applying for federal funding illustrate in their local planning systems
how career guidance and academic counseling be provided to CTE students including linkages to
future education and training opportunities (US Department of Education, n.d.a). A career
development coordinator can work with CTE students to develop realistic plans of study, assist
with registration, and serve as an advocate for CTE students. During middle school students
begin to explore and understand a variety of careers while developing a student portfolio that
includes career interest inventories, learning style inventories, and the development of four year
plans.
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The transition from middle to high school can present challenges for students due to the
increase in rigorous coursework and student expectations (Breakthrough Collaborative, 2011).
Therefore, effective career development and advisement activities are an influential factor in
CTE course selections in secondary education. Career development and advisement activities
can be provided from a variety of individuals including parents, educators, and counselors. In
their study, Manzi, Palma, and Schultheiss (2005) found that “in order to strengthen the
connection between school and future occupations, teachers and school counselors could provide
children with experiences that more clearly link academic subject areas with various
occupations” (p. 259). This concept supports the notion of a POS that combines a rigorous CTE
and academic curriculum directed by a student’s career interest. According to Kalchik and
Oertle (2012) “POS actually provide a means for exploring options, organizing course selections
and planning for transition while developing knowledge and skills” (p. 23).
School counselors have been tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that students have
a plan of study throughout high school. Promoting growth and development for all students can
help to improve a student’s academic performance (Stloukal & Wickman, 2011). However,
according to Alfeid and Bhattacharya (2013) “High school guidance counselors were often more
focused on testing, scheduling, and college applications than on helping students choose a POS”
(p. 20). Due to extra roles placed on school counselors little time is devoted to advising and
counseling students that could have a major impact on their course selections regarding careers
and post-secondary opportunities. According to Johnson, Ott, and Rochkind (2010), “Under the
current system, public schools often seem to assume that counselors can juggle a whole roster of
duties and still effectively assist hundreds of students in planning their futures” (p. 76). As a
result, ensuring that the requirements of a POS are being met and that students are following a
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specified course sequence found in a POS, Alfeid and Bhattacharya (2013) found that CTE
teachers and the local community colleges have provided much of the guidance to students in
this area.
Despite the presumed relationship between CTE and career development, a gap continues
to exist between the two because CTE courses alone do not provide the essential components
available within a career development program (Kalchik & Oertle, 2012). Therefore,
comprehensive career development plans that incorporate academic and career courses meet the
college and career readiness goals currently outlined in the Common Core State Standards
(CCSS, n.d.). A comprehensive career development program assists with the development of
programs of study that are generally developed at the eighth grade with the assistance of the
school counselor and parents with the student prior to transitioning to high school. However,
emphasis on career development that could help steer CTE programs have not been greatly
emphasized in our educational systems, although early educators stressed the importance of
vocational skills to a child’s overall development (Gutek, 2011; Lewis et al., 2008). McComb-
Beverage (2012) suggest that when career development programs are not put into place during
the adolescent stage, students may face difficulty making career choices upon graduation from
high school.
Mei, Newmeyer, and Wei (2008) conducted a study on the factors that influence a
student’s career choices by analyzing the relationships among learning experiences, career self-
efficacy, career interest, and career choices. Mei et al. (2008) found that interventions are
needed to provide students with a “comprehensive career development program that helps
students develop self-efficacy in their desired careers through practical learning activities” (p.
295). In a study to understand the factors that influence enrollment in CTE programs at an
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occupational center, Gene (2010) examined the human and other factors while exploring the
most effective communication strategies that accurately present the advantages of CTE. Gene
(2010) found the “factors that influenced students to enroll were having a high school career
plan, earning credits toward high school graduation, and a job shadowing someone in the field in
which they were interested” (p. 103). McComb-Beverage (2012) found that self-efficacy can be
an influential component to an adolescent’s career planning process.
There are many individuals who contribute to the career development of a student. Since
most counselors are trained in career development and career services, Stipanovic (2010)
suggested “they can help students to effectively engage in career exploration and academic
decision-making” (p. 35). However, most students receive guidance from those closest to them
which help guide their course selections in high school. Gene (2010) found that of the students
reporting, 76% stated that their mother or female guardian influenced them, while only 66%
stated that their father or male guardian influenced their decision. On the other hand, Gene
(2010) found that friends had a great impact with 73% while only 54% credited a guidance
counselor and 42% credited high school teachers as those who influenced their enrollment
decisions. Alfeid and Bhattacharya (2013) found that students who participated in a POS
attributed the advice they received regarding course selection from friends and parents. Since
parents and guardians play a crucial role in the guidance of course selections during high school
for students, effective communication with parents and guardians regarding CTE programs is
necessary.
Super’s (1992) life span theory depicts his life-span rainbow as a model for the practice
of career development and counseling. The life span theory helps to develop conceptual design
instruments for career assessments. A model of Career Development, Maturity, and
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Adaptability, Model of Importance and Determinants “seeks to draw on matching theory and its
knowledge base, on developmental theory and its wisdom, and on phenomenology or personal
construct theory. It seeks, too, to portray what we know about person-environment interaction”
(Super et al., 1992, p. 75). Career assessments including The Strong Inventory, The Career
Development Inventory, The Adult Careers Concern Inventory, and the Saliency Inventory
conceptualize the career interest of an individual (Super, Osborne, Walsh, Brown, & Niles,
1992). North Carolina CTE Programs are required to provide a Career Development Plan (CDP)
on all students when they are transitioning to post-secondary education that includes a variety of
inventories to gauge the students’ career interests and learning abilities (NC 5-Year CTE State
Plan, 2008). Career counseling to enhance career development can be implemented within
programs and institutions with the use of assessments and inventories as designed by Super
(1992). McComb-Beverage (2012) found that life span coupled with an effective career
development program can assist adolescents in creating realistic goals for the future.
The learning style of individuals can also play a vital role in their course selections as
well as their career and college goals because style of learning determines how an individual
processes each new experience. As a result, choices and decisions are influenced through lived
experiences. Kolb and Yeganeh (2009) explain, “For many, this learning style choice has
become relatively unconscious, comprised of deeply patterned routines applied globally to
learning situations. Mindfulness can put the control of learning back in the learner’s hands”
(p.15). Therefore, assessing student learning styles during the career development process can
help guide students in making informed decisions during and after high school. Career guidance
and a variety of inventories are essential tools for transition from school to work in which
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Friedman (2007) suggests that individuals should be provided with tools that make them lifetime
employable.
Teacher-student relationships. The relationships that are developed between students
and teachers are a crucial component to increase student success. “Because many students self-
select to pursue a CTE career pathway or program of study, the teacher–student relationship and
interactions may be more meaningful to students enrolled in CTE programs and have a
significant impact on student learning” (as cited in Jacques & Potemski, 2014, p. 26). Jacques
and Potemski (2014) found that students value the relationships with their CTE teachers because
of the practical knowledge that is provided in the classroom along with sharing similar interests.
“The real-world experience that CTE teachers bring to the classroom and the perspectives they
can share can make learning more meaningful and beneficial to students” (Jacques & Potemski,
2014, p. 13). This type of learning environment aids in increased student engagement that can
strengthen student outcomes because engagement can be linked to relationships (Allen, 2010).
Additionally, stronger relationships can develop over time within CTE programs as students’
progress within a given pathway which increases a sense of belonging within the school
structure.
Kouzes and Posner (2007) suggest, “When people are a part of something that raises
them to higher levels of motivation and morality they develop a belonging to something very
special” (p. 122). Students who participate in a CTE POS have the advantage of being grouped
with others with similar interest, therefore increasing the sense of belonging (Castellano et al.,
2014). Students should respond well to motivation because they will feel a sense of belonging
that raises them to a high level of achievement. Therefore, teachers have an innate ability to help
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their students achieve within the classroom by developing a sense of community through
motivation.
Student perceptions. Although CTE is a widely used term in the educational realm,
many students do not fully understand which courses are associated with CTE. Hollenbeck
(2008) conducted a study on eighth and ninth grade students to gain a greater perspective of their
understanding of CTE. The study revealed that less than half of the students could provide
significant information regarding their knowledge of CTE or the students could not recall having
taking classes within this program (p. 19). Alfeid and Bhattacharya (2012) conducted a study on
mature programs of study to gain a greater perspective of their success. Of the 219 juniors who
participated, most agreed that their program made them more engaged and interested in school.
In a subsequent report Alfeid and Bhattacharya (2013) found when examining mature programs
of study that students were more engaged when they were instructed by teachers who were
experts in their subject matter.
In their study, Gentry, Mann, and Peters (2007) examined six students from nine different
program areas to understand their perceptions of their CTE experiences as compared to their
traditional high school experiences. Since CTE courses are elective courses, many students who
are identified as academically gifted are not encouraged to participate. However, students who
are considered talented in a CTE program would not generally be viewed as talented in their
traditional classroom environment. Gentry et al. (2007) found that of the sixteen talented
students only two were identified as gifted from their base school.
The student learners’ experiences in school are crucial to their future success; however,
most gifted and talented students are not encouraged to attend CTE. CTE Programs can be
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beneficial to the gifted and talented as well as the traditional high school student. In their study,
Gentry et al. (2007) conclude,
Our research indicates that CTE offers students qualitatively different educational
experiences from those they experience in traditional high school settings. Perhaps
traditional high school educators could learn from this CTE center and incorporate these
findings as they strive to educate today’s youth. (p. 395)
While most CTE programs are located on the traditional high school campus, in some cases,
there are CTE centers that allow a select group of students to attend programs at an off-campus
location for part or half of the day. Bachofer et al. (2014) found when examining student
perceptions of CTE programs at their school, participants indicated there were times when fitting
CTE courses into their schedule was difficult. On the other hand, students who participated in
CTE programs indicated that they believed they were a step ahead and more prepared than their
peers because of their CTE coursework through their selected pathway (Bachofer et al., 2014).
Gentry, Peters, Rizza, and Saiying (2008), conducted a study to examine the talents that
are found in students who are enrolled in an exemplary CTE center. In their study, Gentry et al.
(2008) examined the experiences of sixteen gifted and talented students in CTE programs in
comparison to their traditional classroom settings from nine different program areas. The
students at the center consisted of primarily juniors and seniors that had chosen to attend the
CTE center due to their disinterest in their traditional high school courses (Gentry et al., 2008).
The study revealed that CTE programs offered the gifted and talented students real-world
experiences relevant to their talents and interests, suggesting that CTE programs should be used
as an effort to identify gifted and talented students. Aliaga, Kotmraju, and Stone (2012) argue,
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CTE should be seen as a vital component of all students’ experiences in high school, in
which all students take a wide variety of courses in different amounts that suit their
personal interests-whether the courses are mainly academic, mainly CTE, or a
combination of the two. (p.12)
Allen (2010) found in the study to examine the perceptions of CTE teachers influence on
students that nearly 98% of the participants interviewed agreed or strongly agreed that through
the skills learned in CTE courses, students gained confidence and their self-esteem improved.
Effective communication. In regards to effective communication for CTE programs,
Gene (2010) found that students found the following most effective, “(a) presentation at your
high school (75%); (b) career day held at your high school (66%); (c) information from a friend
(61%); and (d) brochures (56%)” (p. 102). Whereas social media, websites, and public
broadcasts have been attributed to projecting information to a vast majority, Gene’s (2010) study
found that students tend to need a more one-to-one personal connection with an individual when
receiving information regarding CTE programs. As a result, career development
coordinators/advisors and CTE teachers can provide a variety of career exploration activities to
students beginning in middle school that extends to high school which involves career planning,
career days, and work-based learning opportunities that include job shadowing, student
internships, and business/industry field trips.
Career development plays a vital role in a CTE POS because this process provides
opportunities for students to make informed decisions regarding their college and career goals.
Kalchick and Oertle (2010) suggest “Career development in association with a POS can provide
students with a combination of coursework, innovative instruction including work-based learning
experiences, and support services that are aligned with career clusters and career pathways” (p.
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3). Since a POS integrate academics, CTE, post-secondary, and careers, career development will
need to be the cornerstone in helping to increase student enrollment.
While continuous support of CTE POSs is vital to secondary education, students should
not be forced into to choosing a POS. Understanding a student’s learning style and interest can
help to guide the program selection. Braley and Handy (2012) found that CTE students followed
certain career paths and appreciate a hands-on approach to learning. On the other hand, most
students were academically unsuccessful when placed in programs rather than selecting a POS
based on student abilities and interest suggesting that an individualized approach to learning is
necessary (Braley & Handy, 2012). In their study, Shumer et al. (2012) found from the lessons
learned from highly implemented programs of study that successful implementation of a POS
depends heavily upon effective communication and collaboration.
The Influence of CTE Programs of Study in Secondary Education
POSs are designed to integrate CTE courses with a particular concentration area with a
rigorous academic curriculum. The North Carolina Department of Public of Instruction for
Career and Technical Education (n.d.) explains,
The Carl Perkins Career and Education Act of 2006 requires that recipients of federal
CTE funds offer Programs of Study – a coordinated, non-duplicative progression of
courses that connect secondary and postsecondary education. Programs of Study can
include dual and concurrent programs and should lead to an industry-recognized
credential or to further education. (para. 1)
North Carolina offers the Career and College Promise program that provides a clear pathway to
postsecondary education through dual enrollment at the community college that increases
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opportunities to CTE students to participate in a program of study (NC Community Colleges,
2014).
Lewis et al. (2012) suggest “POS can be viewed as a concrete extension of the goals and
ideals of John Dewey” (p. 80). Additionally, POS are central components of the Carl D. Perkins
Act for CTE (Shumer et al., 2012; U.S. Dept. of Education, n.d.a). Drawing from Dewey’s
educational philosophy, a POS points to providing students with relevant, real world experiences
that are practical to the 21st century (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2010). Since POSs are
relatively new to America’s educational system there is not sufficient data to support the
academic effects of students who have completed a POS (Alfeid & Bhattacharya, 2013).
Therefore, gaining information on student experiences who have participated in these programs
in regards to a traditional high school program can provide educators with best practices for
educational improvements.
Due to the rigorous nature of POS the potential to increase student opportunities in
gaining the necessary college and career skills needed in the 21st century workplace exist.
Castellano, Sundell, Overman, & Aliaga (2012) found that in “POS classrooms, students were
building wind tunnels, determining the course schedule in real time by responding to online
surveys, constructing computers and networks, isolating DNA samples, and analyzing
fingerprints to solve crimes” (p. 103). High-quality CTE POSs present students with real-world
challenges that are relevant to today’s workforce and aligns with the nations college and career
readiness standards (U.S. Dept. of Education, 2012). Research suggests that students who
complete a CTE POS in high school are better prepared for post-secondary options including
college and careers because they have had the opportunity to gain college credits and certificates
during high school (Castellano et al., 2014; Lekes et al., 2007).
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Students who participate in CTE Programs have the opportunity to gain industry-
recognized credentials in such areas as Microsoft, National Center for Construction Education
Research (NCCER), ServSafe, AutoDesk Computer Aided Drafting (CAD), and the nationally
recognized Career Readiness Certification (North Carolina State Plan, 2008). Certifications are
becoming an important aspect for employees to gain meaningful employment in most jobs that
certify workplace skills and success; CTE concentrators also have the opportunity to earn the
National Career Readiness Certification which is recognized at businesses and industries across
the United States with over one million certifications issued in 2013 (ACT, 2014). Allen (2010)
found that industry credentials are considered when hiring new employees by HR executives.
Castellano et al., (2014) found of the school districts examined that 94% of the students who sat
for a credentialing exam passed with three quarters of those credential earned by completers of a
POS.
North Carolina also offers students who participate in CTE programs an opportunity to
gain post-secondary credits through the Career and College Promise initiative commonly known
as dual enrollment that are available to students during and after high school as well as through
an online format (NCDPI, n.d.). According to ACTE (2009), “High-quality CTE programs can
help more students persist in and complete high school, preparing them for the postsecondary
education and training that will be critical to future economic successes” (p. 1). Allen (2010)
found that offering industry-recognized credentials increased classroom engagement while
adding value to their program.
CTE programs are representative of the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in the
workforce. Career guidance and counseling are crucial components of a CTE POS in addition to
work-based learning opportunities that center on developing those soft skills necessary in today’s
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workplace (Hammond et al., 2012). A POS presents multiple pathways to success. Tying in to
the Harvard Pathways to Prosperity Report (2011), POSs are essential to preparing students for
career opportunities in a variety of avenues. Additionally, with the reauthorization of Perkins IV,
each CTE program must offer at least one pathway and/or program of study that leads to careers
and postsecondary opportunities (U.S. Department of Education, n.d.). Aliaga, Castellano et al.
(2012) concluded in their study that student enrollment is expected to increase in POS because
students will take more CTE courses “because 97% of all U.S. high school students take at least
one CTE course during high school” (as cited by Levesque, Lauen, Teitelbaum, Alt, & Librera,
2000, p. 115).
As part of the program of study model, credentials and postsecondary opportunities are
major requirements of a successful POS. In the Aliaga, Castellano, et al. (2012) study, the
control group fell short in these areas, which could affect the overall academic success of
students enrolled in these programs at these particular school districts. Integration of high-tech
technology and project-based learning are also elements of POS and are noted in this study.
With the potential to earn certifications and credentials in addition to college credits, students
who participate in a CTE POS, have the potential to have increased earnings over their life span.
Fletcher and Zirkle (2009) found that the high school curriculum tracks could greatly impact
occupational earnings noting that CTE completer tracks were found to receive higher earnings
than their counterparts.
Academic integration. The Federal Carl D. Perkins CTE Improvement Act of 2006
requires schools to link career and technical studies with a rigorous academic core curriculum, in
order to add meaning and relevance to students’ academic studies. Local Education Agencies
(LEAs) are to provide comprehensive professional preparation and staff development for career
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and technical education teachers in collaboration with academics that have a positive and lasting
impact on classroom instruction. The institution of a CTE POS can help to accomplish this goal
through the promotion and development of services and activities that integrate rigorous and
challenging academic skills into CTE instruction.
Although career and technical education is a federally funded and supported program,
participation into the program at the secondary and post-secondary level is voluntary. While
there have been concentrated efforts to increase participation including the integration of career
and technical studies with academics, individual school systems have the option whether or not
to fully implement academic and CTE integration. According to Flournoy, Hall, and Wolsic
(2010), “Many administrators stated CTE as an elective was a disadvantage to the program” (p.
7). The rigorous nature of CTE courses are dependent upon individual courses with many upper
level CTE courses viewed as rigorous, but lower level not so much when compared to core
classes (Flournoy et al., 2010). Herian (2010) found when examining the public perceptions of
CTE in Nebraska, that of the 535 respondents where 52% consisted of a rural community that
CTE courses tend to be very rigorous stressing both academic and technical skills. Urban
respondents which represented 48% of participants expressed the importance of employer
involvement in the development of CTE courses (Herian, 2010).
To strengthen integration of academic core curriculum and to ensure students are college
and career ready, an ongoing focus on CTE programs will continue to be necessary.
Additionally, to be successful in meeting Perkins IV Federal performance standards this must
occur both at the high school and middle school level because the measures for CTE academic
attainment are the same as for No Child Left Behind which occur in the ninth and tenth grade for
math and reading. Aliaga, Castellano et al. (2012) found that even in the event of decreased
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funding, a school system that is supportive of CTE can ensure that the elements of a program of
study can continue to exist.
CTE requires students to have advanced academic skills as they prepare student for
college and growing careers. Daggett (2013) found in a study conducted by MetaMetrics that
some of the highest Lexile reading levels are necessary for CTE textbooks in high school. Entry-
level occupations were found to have the highest Lexile reading levels (Daggett, 2013)
confirming that teaching literacy in CTE courses is a critical component to the program. Pellock
and Threeton (2010) found while examining the relationship between SkillsUSA student contest
preparation and academics that reading is a primary component to understanding the safety
guidelines regarding SkillsUSA competitions. According to CORD (n.d.),
Many students have a difficult time understanding academic concepts (such as math
concepts) as they are commonly taught (that is, using an abstract, lecture method), but
they desperately need to understand the concepts as they relate to the workplace and to
the larger society in which they will live and work. Traditionally, students have been
expected to make these connections on their own, outside the classroom.
Therefore, implementing such models as Math-in-CTE where CTE and math teachers work
together to develop math enhanced CTE lessons could help students contextualize their learning
by making connections to the real-world (NRCCTE, n.d.).
Collaborative learning is necessary; therefore, blended curricula could prove to be
beneficial in this effort (Flournoy et al., 2010; Meeder & Suddreth, 2012). Braley and Handy
(2012) found that many of the participants agreed that blended learning is needed, but that there
is not enough time to work together to effectively provide integration. Additionally, there is a
need for additional curricula support because of the lack of skills on how to effectively integrate
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academics and CTE courses (Meeder & Suddreth, 2012). Anderson and Anderson (2012) found
when researching the integration of mathematics within the Agricultural Education curriculum,
teachers indicated that while they teach the skill or principle prior to linking to the Standards of
Learning (SOL) standards; to effectively ingrate math into the curriculum, additional resources
are needed. The collaboration between academics and CTE can help teachers to develop skills to
effectively implement activities within classroom instruction that aid in student mastery of key
concepts (Lewis et al., 2012). Allen (2010) suggested that successful strategies and practices
implemented by CTE teachers could be utilized by core teachers and applied in academic courses
to increase student engagement. Essentially, academic and CTE teachers need time to work
together in efforts to begin the integration process (Braley & Handy, 2012; Fuhrman, Morgan, &
Parr, 2011). Incorporating cross-curricular project-based learning opportunities for students can
help to close the gap and enhance the integration process. Castellano et al., (2014) suggests
common planning or informal lunch planning between core academic and CTE teachers could
help to facilitate project-based learning across multiple disciplines.
Inclusion. CTE programs are provided to offer all students an opportunity to enhance
their skills towards their future goals. A CTE POS, while rigorous, can also serve the needs of
students within an inclusion setting. As with CTE and academic integration, CTE and special
education teachers must also collaborate to ensure the success of students. Casale-Giannola
(2012) found student performance is higher when teachers develop a respectful and positive
rapport with their students. Many of the changes that are taking place in CTE programs may
limit students who receive special education services. While CTE can support the needs of
exceptional children, the growing demands of the workforce, high stakes testing, and increase
performance objectives, may inhibit students from being successful in CTE programs. Casale-
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Giannola (2012) concluded that special education teachers and CTE teachers lack a repertoire of
resources to support the needs of students with disabilities within the inclusive setting.
Therefore, collaboration between academic and CTE teachers to include co-teaching strategies
could help to support inclusion in CTE programs. Foundational skills in math, reading, and
science are critical in CTE programs, which further validates the importance of CTE and
academic integration to ensure students with disabilities are successful.
Academic programs (post-secondary opportunities). CTE courses are often
overlooked because of the competitiveness to go to college, which tends to decrease student
enrollment in the CTE program. Flournoy et al., (2010) found “With such competitive, cut-
throat entrance requirements of certain universities, higher achieving students have been directed
away from CTE courses by college representatives” (p. 8). On the other hand, schools that offer
CTE courses at a separate school rather than the student’s home school can inhibit student
enrollment (Lewis et al., 2012). Davis (2012) study found that the increased focus on college
readiness, incoming freshman were not given an option to participate in CTE programs.
Advanced placement. Advanced placement (AP) courses were developed to allow
students to participate in college level courses at the high school level. In their study, Lee, Scott,
and Tolson (2010) found that students who enroll in AP courses in high school and pass the AP
examinations are more likely to be successful in their college years and graduate within six
years. Math was the most common AP credit awarded to high school students. Regardless of
the benefits of AP courses, in their study, Moore and Slate (2008) found that exceptional
children and minority students are often underrepresented as AP courses were traditionally
offered to the academically gifted. Moore and Slate (2008) suggested that “teachers and
administrators should engage in curriculum alignment in all subject areas that prepare all
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students for taking more rigorous course work prior to their first enrollment in AP classes” (p.
64). CTE POSs that integrate a rigorous CTE and academic curriculum could better prepare
students for enrollment in AP courses. While AP courses are not always available to the
underrepresented individuals, CTE offers free and public access to all populations.
North Carolina articulation agreements. North Carolina has provided articulation
agreements between high schools and community colleges and between community colleges and
public universities that will provide a seamless transition between secondary and postsecondary
education. According to the NC High School to Community College Articulation Agreement
(2012), “This statewide articulation agreement is comprised of approximately 50 high school
CTE courses that match the knowledge and skills taught in similar community college courses”
(p. 1). Students may earn the articulated credit that is transferrable to one of the NC Community
Colleges by illustrating proficiency on the NC statewide post assessment (a score of 93) in
addition to earning an overall grade in the course of no less than a B. Additionally, North
Carolina offers a comprehensive articulation agreement (CAA) which is a statewide agreement
that governs the transfer of college credits between NC Community Colleges and the NC public
university (NC Community Colleges, 2014). According to the NC Community Colleges (2014),
The CAA provides certain assurances to the transferring student; for example: -- Assures
admission to one of the 16 UNC institutions (Transfer Assured Admissions Policy) --
Enables NC community college graduates of two-year Associate in Arts and Associate in
Science degree programs who are admitted to constituent institutions of the university of
NC to transfer with junior status. (para. 1)
Dual enrollment (Career and College Promise [CCP]). Dual enrollment courses allow
students to enroll in college courses while completing high school courses simultaneously. Dual
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enrollment courses provide options to students to better prepare them for post-secondary because
they are offered to students who plan to attend a four-year college or a community college
(Klopfenstein & Lively, 2012). This program has become popular among CTE and community
colleges because students can complete many of their required college readiness standards
through this avenue. Additionally, the enrollment process in a dual enrollment course is less
strenuous than many college courses such as Advanced Placement without the requirement of
passing a College Board exam. Klopfenstein and Lively (2012) express that most schools
reserve AP courses for their top performing students. Therefore, student participation with dual
enrollment has allowed schools to close the achievement gap in an effort to offer rigorous
college course work to all students that promotes equity and equality to increase opportunities for
students regardless of background or circumstances (U.S. Dept. of Education, 2012). Castellano
et al. (2014) suggest that dual enrollment programs should be reexamined so that more students
can participate. While Alfeid and Bhattacharya (2013) suggest that students who participate in
dual enrollment courses could reduce the need for remedial courses in college.
North Carolina introduced a new approach to dual enrollment in 2011 by implementing
Career and College Promise (CCP). CCP provides multiple opportunities for students to enhance
their career and college goals by providing tuition free college courses to qualified juniors and
seniors in three pathways: college transfer, technical careers, and innovative high schools (NC
Community Colleges, 2014). Fletcher and Zirkle (2009) found “one approach utilized to
increase the likelihood of high school students to pursue postsecondary education is through dual
enrollment programs. Dual enrollment programs enable students to earn college credit by taking
high school courses” (p. 3). Additionally, while we have seen a decline in the United States
economic structure, the benefit of CCP courses are that secondary education in collaboration
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with post-secondary institutions can boost the economy and meet the needs of the community by
providing a well-prepared workforce. CCP courses can work in combination with the North
Carolina Articulation Agreements affording students multiple opportunities to earn post-
secondary credits tuition free. Alfeid and Bhattacharya (2013) found that in successful POS
sites, students taking dual enrollment courses were enrolled at their affiliated college to allow
transcripts to indicate college credits to provide a solution of students losing paper certificates or
escrowed credits.
Summary
Career and Technical Education has evolved over the centuries from agriculture and
industrial arts to advanced manufacturing, engineering, and technology. CTE programs are
required to adjust curricula and develop new programs in order to meet the needs of the current
labor market. High-quality programs provide students with a set of employable and transferable
skills that are essential to ensure students are able to thrive in the workforce (U.S. Dept. of
Education, 2012). With less than 50% of the high school graduates completing a CTE
concentration, examining those experiences of completers will provide insight into a CTE POS
and how participation links to future success.
The ESEA requires that states begin to provide high quality assessments that meet the
national college and career readiness standards. While the reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins
Act of 2006 requires that CTE programs must provide at least one program of study that leads to
post-secondary or training and President Obama’s blueprint for transforming CTE outlines four
principles that should guide the future reauthorization of Perkins including accountability,
collaboration, alignment, and innovation (National Skills Coalition, 2013; US Dept. of
Education, 2012). A CTE POS provides a rigorous plan of study that aligns academics with a
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career and technical program to better prepare students for college and a career by providing
opportunities to earn post-secondary credits, certifications, and credentials. A student has
demonstrated that they are college and career ready when they have succeeded academically in
their coursework, which is demonstrated through college and career readiness assessments; this
achievement indicates students are more likely to have success in a post-secondary institution
and have acquired the necessary technical training that leads to a career (ACT, 2010).
Understanding what educational processes could increase college and career success for students
could enhance pedagogical practices.
Accountability is a necessary means that the educational system must be held to as a way
to ensure the success of students while also continuing to receive federal, state, and local
funding. Schools are measured based on the quantitative data that derives from state and local
assessments as a measurement of success. However, Bonaiuto and Johnson (2009) suggest that
accountability must stem from the local context with “roots in what the community values” (p.
26).
CTE programs are centered on the needs of the national and state labor market data. CTE
course offerings and pathways at individual schools and communities are based primarily on the
needs of the local labor market; therefore, students gain academic and technical skills necessary
to be successful in their future career within their community. Dewey (1897) believed that the
education of children was the community’s moral duty. Friedman (2007) conceded that those
cultures that embrace change would have a greater advantage at success in this world. Alfeld
and Bhattacharya (2012) posits the offering of a POS in secondary education can expose students
to a range of education and career options that are beyond secondary education to help them
adequately gain the skills and preparation to achieve their goals for the future.
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Guidance and counseling is a critical component to a student’s overall high school
experience. Alfeld and Bhattacharya (2012) found that many school counselors are not
knowledgeable in understanding the components of a POS, which has substantially limited their
ability to provide guidance to students in selecting appropriate courses. Examining the
experiences of students who participated in a CTE POS could enlighten educators on how to
educate students to be successful and productive citizens within the context of their own
communities while focusing on the social, mental, academic, and vocational development.
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CHAPTER THREE: METHODS
Overview
In this study, I examined the experiences of graduates who participated in a CTE
Program of Study while in high school from Southwest School District (pseudonym) in North
Carolina. A qualitative research design was used to examine the experiences of student
graduates who participated in a CTE POS at one high school in the southwest region of North
Carolina. Through the use of documents, interviews, and a focus group the experiences of 10
graduates who participated in a CTE POS during high school is described.
Design
A phenomenological approach was used to examine individual experiences of graduates
who participated in a CTE POS during high school. Since phenomenology is more than just a
description, this approach was chosen over a case study to allow the researcher the opportunity to
make interpretations regarding the experiences with the individuals that were used in this study
regarding the phenomenon. The study occurred within one year of gathering data from graduates
of one high school. The data gathered was analyzed using the procedures of a hermeneutical
phenomenology (Van Manen, 1990).
A phenomenological study helps to point out the essential elements of a phenomenon
(Kafle, 2011). A hermeneutical phenomenological method intends to describe participant
experiences that have participated or shared the same experiences. I used a qualitative
hermeneutical phenomenological instead of a transcendental approach to allow me to interpret
the lived experiences of the participants who participated in a CTE POS. To complete a
thorough analysis of participant experiences while correctly understanding the essence of the
phenomenon, a hermeneutic approach helped to reveal the full meaning behind what is often
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thought to be understood (Van Manen, 1990). Therefore, this study was aimed at understanding
how participants felt about their experiences in a CTE POS that could not be measured
quantitatively by studying the essence of the phenomenon to gain a fuller understanding of what
this particular experience was like for the participants (Van Manen, 1990). The phenomena
under study were the experiences of participants who participated in a CTE POS during high
school.
Research Questions
This hermeneutical phenomenological approach describes the following:
Research Question 1: How do high school graduates who participated in a Career and
Technical Education (CTE) Program of Study in North Carolina describe their experiences in
high school?
Research Question 2: What factors influenced the participants’ decision to participate in
a Career and Technical Education Program of Study?
Research Question 3: How do participants perceive Career and Technical Education’s
role in their secondary education experience?
Research Question 4: What do participants attribute to their readiness for entrance to a
post-secondary institution and the workforce after graduating from high school?
Setting
This study was conducted in a rural school district in the Southwest region of North
Carolina from one comprehensive high school. The school has an approximate student
population of 1,521 in grades 9-12. The ethnic breakdown of the school consists of 37% white,
51% black, 12% Native American, and 2.4% Hispanic. In 2013, over 78% of the district’s
students qualified for free and reduced lunch. Approximately 3% of the student population were
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enrolled in AP courses and 17% participated in dually enrolled CTE courses in correlation with
the community college system for the 2012-13 school year (NC School Report Cards, 2013).
Less than 2% of the students participating in AP courses completed or passed the College Board
exam in an effort to gain college credit for the course in the 2014 school year (NCPDI, 2014).
Approximately 44% of the 2012-2013 graduating class completed a four-credit CTE program of
study known as CTE Completers (NCDPI, 2014). Each local education agency (LEA) can
determine program availability and additional educational opportunities that are provided in their
school district. Since CTE POS are relatively new, the availability and requirements for
participation vary across the state of North Carolina in each school district. As a result, the
decision was made to conduct this study in one school district. The school district selected has
only one comprehensive high school that was included in this study.
Participants
When conducting a phenomenological study, Polkinghorne notes “researchers interview
from 5 to 15 individuals who have all experienced the phenomenon” (as cited by Creswell, 2013,
p. 81). According to Polkinghorne (2005), “The focus of qualitative inquiries is on describing,
understanding, and clarifying a human experience. It requires collecting a series of intense, full,
and saturated descriptions of the experience under investigation” (p. 139). In this study I
conducted 10 in-depth interviews individually with participants who graduated within the last
three years from one comprehensive high school. Participants were selected purposively with a
specified criterion (Polkinghorne, 2005), based on their participation in a CTE POS from school
years 2011-12, 2012-13, and 2013-14 to include completion of a career cluster concentration,
completion of an articulated and/or dual enrollment course, and had earned at least one industry-
recognized credential. Maximum variation was used to include male and female participants
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selected from a variety of the 12 available CTE Career Clusters within this school district that
included (Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources, Architecture & Construction, Arts A/V
Technology & Communications, Business Management & Administration, Finance, Health
Science, Hospitality & Tourism, Human Services, Information Technology, Manufacturing,
Marketing, and Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM).
After receiving approval from IRB, participants were identified by a designated third
party school official using the selected criterion. Participants were solicited through a mailed
invitation to participate in the study to their last known mailing address and by e-mail (if
available) that included a copy of the invitation letter, which provided contact information for
those interested. A total of 10 graduates, meeting the selected criterion, responded to the
researcher’s request to participate in the study. Participants were requested to consent to the
study by signing a statement of consent form which included the purpose of the study. The
consent form contained a confidentiality statement to protect the identities of the participants and
protect them from any harm. The total number of participants was 10. Table 1 provides the
participant information.
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Table 1
Participant Information
Participants Gender Ethnicity Graduation
Year CTE Program of Study
P1-Alexis Female African
American
2013 Hospitality & Tourism (Culinary
Arts)
P2-Connor Male Caucasian 2014 Architecture & Construction and
STEM
P3-Hannah Female Native
American 2014 Health Sciences and
Business, Management, &
Administration
P4-Ethan Male African
American 2013 Business, Management, &
Administration
P5-Victoria Female African
American
2014 Health Sciences
P6-Kayla
(Skype) Female African
American
2012 Health Sciences
P7-Emily Female Native
American
2014 Hospitality & Tourism (Culinary
Arts)
P8-Kiera
(Skype) Female African
American
2014 Hospitality & Tourism (Culinary
Arts)
P9-Tyler Male Caucasian 2014 Agriculture & Natural Resource;
Architecture & Construction;
and Manufacturing
P10-Elizabeth
(Skype) Female Native
American 2013 Health Sciences
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Procedures
Prior to beginning the research, I secured Institutional Review Board approval (see
Appendix A) to reduce the risk of harmful impact to the participants since I was using human
subjects in this study (Creswell, 2013). I also secured permission from the school district in
which I planned to conduct the study prior to gathering or obtaining data (see Appendix B).
Participants for this study were selected based on their participation in a CTE POS.
As an employee of the school district where the study was conducted, I requested
permission from the superintendent and his cabinet. Prior to approval, the superintendent
requested that a third party be responsible for accessing the data requested for this study by the
primary investigator to preserve the privacy of student’s personal information. Southwest High
School (pseudonym) administration designated a third party school official who works with
school support personnel and has regular access to data of CTE participants to identify these
graduates who met the research study criterion. The participant criterion for this research study
was provided to the designated school official by the researcher along with the participant
invitation letter and consent form.
Participants were selected by the school official utilizing the CTE completer list from the
past three school years consisting of 2011-12, 2012-13, and 2013-14. The school official
contacted potential participants by letter of invitation (see Appendix C) to their last known
mailing address and last known e-mail address that was available. The invitation letter included
instructions to prospective participants if they wish to participate in the study to directly respond
to the primary investigator indicating his/her desire to participate in the study. Participants were
requested to sign an informed consent prior to participation in the study (see Appendix D). A
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FERPA release form was requested from participant’s that could not provide the requested
documentation (see Appendix E).
The procedures for collecting data through interviews was conducted by selecting
multiple individuals who had experienced the same phenomenon (Creswell, 2013). I conducted
interviews with 10 participants using open-ended questions (see Appendix F). A focus group
was conducted with five of the participants using a guided set of open-ended questions (see
Appendix G). Interviews were recorded and then transcribed by the researcher. Data collection
will remain confidential with the identities of the participants remaining confidential; the use of
pseudonyms are employed throughout this study.
I recorded detailed notes highlighting significant incidences during these interviews.
Interviews of the participants were also coded to identify group experiences relative to the
phenomenon. An exhaustive description was created from the discussions in order to describe
the essence of the phenomenological experience. Participants were provided a copy of the typed
transcriptions to review for accuracy by email as part of the member checking process (see
Appendix H).
The Researcher’s Role
As an educator I conducted qualitative research using a phenomenological research
design from an ontological perspective. I identified the nature of reality from the views of the
participants. Understanding the individual experiences of students who participated in a CTE
program of study from multiple realities allowed the researcher to assemble these views into
themes in an effort to identify the differences between the individual experiences. Due to my
extensive background in education primarily in CTE and a vested interest in the success of the
program, I was conscientious in bracketing my ideas in order not to influence the information
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relayed from the participants and to identify the phenomenon (Creswell, 2013). Selected
interview quotations from the participant interviews are provided in the appendices (see
Appendix I). Through the use of reflexivity (see Appendix J) and reflective journaling (see
Appendix K), I was able to bracket my own suppositions by recording personal thoughts and
insights, throughout the study in order to objectively examine the participants’ experiences (Van
Manen, 1990) and to epoch my personal thoughts and opinions regarding the phenomenon
through journal entries (see Appendix L).
I currently serve as the CTE Director for Southwest School District (pseudonym). I was
not a traditional education major and obtained a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business
Administration from UNC-Pembroke prior to getting certified as a Business Education Teacher
and Career Development Coordinator. After entering into a career in education, I completed the
Master of Public Administration from UNC-Pembroke. Later I realized that in order to progress
in the educational field I must pursue an advanced degree in an education field, therefore, I
enrolled at Liberty University earning an Education Specialist Degree in Educational Leadership
in 2012 and continued to pursue the doctoral degree in Educational Leadership. I am certified in
the areas of Business Education (6-12), Career Development Coordinator, Special Populations
Coordinator, and CTE Administration. I have been employed with the public schools for fifteen
years as a bookkeeper, middle grades and high school Business & Information Technology
Teacher, Special Populations and Career Development Coordinator, CTE Coordinator and CTE
Director.
I am passionate about education. I enjoy working with school personnel, students, and
parents to help them gain a greater understanding regarding the importance of making career
goals early in life. I strongly believe that career development provided to students early in life
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will help students make better informed decisions in the future regarding their careers. Gandhi
expressed the belief that vocational education is an important part of the curriculum because it
accentuates the dignity of work (as cited in Gutek, 2011). Our ultimate goal as educators is to
ensure that students are able to become productive members of society with regards to
employability and self-sustainability. Therefore, I believe CTE affords students the opportunity
to learn and to gain the necessary skills to be successful in whichever career they choose for their
future.
I informed participants of my past role as a CTE Coordinator at the site location in
addition to my current role as the CTE Director for Southwest School District. Informing the
participants and ensuring their awareness about my role in education was important in order
maintain confidentiality throughout the study. I was more concerned with gaining a greater
understanding of the participants’ experiences in a CTE POS and how those experiences have
helped to shape their views of the CTE program. When presenting myself to the participants, I
wanted my personal image to be representative of a researcher while also informing them of my
role in education (Gall, Gall, & Borg, 2007). My prior educational experience of twelve years
was completed in another school district.
During the interviews, I assured the participants highest confidentiality and built a
rapport with them prior to beginning the questions (Gall et al., 2007). Since the participants are
graduates, my current role in the district did not have an effect on their experiences during high
school. However, developing relationships with the individuals in the study was an important
aspect of laying the groundwork prior to beginning the study. Spending a little more time
developing these relationships allowed the researcher to gain the participants trust, permitting
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them to become more comfortable in sharing their experiences and ideas regarding their
participation in a CTE POS.
Data Collection
The philosophical assumption that guided this study was ontological. An ontological
assumption allowed the researcher an opportunity to assemble multiple forms of reality into
themes representing the differences between each individual experience (Creswell, 2013).
According to Polkinghorne (2005), “The purpose of data collection in qualitative research it to
provide evidence for the experience it is investigating” (p. 138). I collected data through
interviews, a focus group, and text analysis, and assembled this data based on participants’
individual views. The worldview that guided this study was social constructivism. According to
Creswell (2013), “In social constructivism, individuals seek understanding of the world in which
they live and work. They develop subjective meanings of their experiences-meanings directed
toward certain objects and things” (p. 24).
This qualitative study used a hermeneutical phenomenological method in order to
describe and fully understand participant experiences who participated in a CTE POS
(Moustakas, 1994). Although I work with the district and could have possibly gained access to
information, I secured IRB approval before collecting data. According to Creswell (2013),
“Gaining access to sites and individual also involves several steps . . . permissions need to be
sought from a human subjects review board, a process in which campus committees review
research studies for their potential harmful impact on and risk to participants” (p. 152). After
receiving IRB approval, I collected data through documents, individual interviews, and a focus
group. The descriptive interview process allowed the researcher to examine the conscious
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experiences of the participants in order to interpret the text to “achieve a fuller, more meaningful
understanding” of the participant experiences with the phenomenon (Moustakas, 1994, p. 10).
Interviews
In hermeneutical phenomenological research, the interview process was designed to gain
a deeper understanding of the experience (Van Manen 1990). Individual semi-structured
interviews were conducted with 10 participants who participated in a CTE POS. Interviews with
seven of the participants were held at a location suggested by the researcher and agreed to by the
participants while three of the interviews were conducted through the computer program Skype
due to them being several miles away, which made traveling difficult and were unable to
participate in person. A signed informed consent form was received prior to beginning the
interviews. Participants were informed that the interviews were being tape recorded for
transcription purposes by the researcher. Throughout the interview process, I followed the
interview guide which contained 15 open-ended questions, but probed deeper in areas to elicit
additional information or clarification. Polkinghorne (2005) suggests, “Access to one’s
experiences is not straightforward; it often requires assistance and probing to discover and
explore areas of the experience that did not emerge initially” (p. 143). The individual sessions
with the participants were scheduled for at least one hour. Considerable time was spent with each
participant talking prior to the interview to build a rapport and to answer any additional questions
related to the study before and after the interview process. The participants were ensured that
confidentiality would be stressed throughout the research process.
The participant interview questions were designed to gain a rich, thick description of their
experiences in a CTE POS and to discover the experiences of the participants.
Open-Ended Interview Questions
1. How would you describe your high school experiences?
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2. How would you describe your experiences with the Career & Technical Education
program?
3. What motivated you to participate in your selected CTE Program of Study?
4. What motivated you to choose your course selections in high school?
5. What specific guidance and advisement were you provided prior to and during high
school?
6. What activities did you participate in prior to and during high school that encouraged you
to select your chosen program of study and why?
7. Which courses did you find the most challenging in your program of study?
8. How would you describe the importance of your participation in a CTE program of study
on your future plans?
9. Who do you believe CTE courses are designed to serve?
10. How would you describe the importance of CTE programs in secondary education?
11. How did concentrating in (insert CTE Program of Study here) better prepare you for
your college and career goals?
12. Do you feel you have an advantage over non (insert CTE Program of Study here)
graduates? Why?
13. Why do you think so few students participate a program of study?
14. What could be done to alter that decision for others?
15. Considering your academic and career history, if you could have done anything
differently in high school, what would that have been?
The purpose of the first two questions was to gain information about the participants’
experiences during high school who participated in a CTE POS. These two broad open-ended
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questions, allowed the participants to share their experiences so that the researcher could gain an
in-depth view into their lived experiences (Van Manen, 1990). Questions three, four, five, and
six were designed to gather information on factors that influenced the participants’ decision to
participate in a CTE POS. Studies have shown that career development opportunities provided to
students can contribute to making informed choices during high school (Gene, 2010, McComb-
Beverage, 2012). When deciding on course selections in CTE Programs, Alfeid and
Bhattacharya (2013) found parents and friends provided advice to students. Effective
communication regarding programs can also provide information relevant to CTE programs
(Gene, 2010).
Providing rigorous academic and CTE integration is an essential component of a CTE
POS as outlined in the reauthorization of Perkins IV so that students are exposed to challenging
subject matter while making real-world connections. Prior research suggested that lower level
CTE courses did not present a high level of rigor (Flournoy et al., 2010), therefore question
seven sought to understand the rigorous nature of the courses within each participants’ CTE
POS. Questions eight, nine, and ten sought to understand the perception of CTE programs from
the participants. Participants of CTE programs are often more engaged in school (Alfeid &
Bhattacharya, 2013), however, since CTE courses are electives, not all students are encouraged
to participate (Flournoy et al., 2010; Gentry et al., 2007). Questions 11 and 12 aimed to address
the attributing factors to participants’ college and career readiness post-graduation. Students who
participate in CTE programs have been shown to have positive outcomes, however there was
limited information on participants’ who have participated in a CTE POS. Questions 13, 14, and
15 sought to gain insight into participants’ experiences that could potentially encourage
participation in a CTE POS for future students through participant recommendations.
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As each interview was transcribed, I listened to each recording at least two times to
ensure that I had accurately transcribed the information presented and to gain greater insight.
Smith, Flowers, and Larkin (2009) explain,
Each reading and listening to the recording may provide some new insights. At this
stage, the researcher can make notes about his or her observations and reflections about
the interview experience or any other thoughts and comments of potential significance.
(p. 12)
After the transcriptions, I reviewed each transcription to correct any errors prior to
sending a copy through e-mail to the interviewees for review of their typed transcript.
Interviewees had the opportunity to review the transcripts to ensure that information was
accurately documented as part of the member checking process. I assigned each participant a
pseudonym and participant identification number and placed all printed transcripts in the
individual participants file folder. Recordings of transcripts were removed from the two
recording devices used and the researcher’s personal computer and placed on a USB drive also
stored in the locked filing cabinet in the researcher’s home.
Focus Group
A focus group with participants was conducted to gain additional data (Gall et al., 2007).
In qualitative research, focus groups help to stimulate interaction among the participants that
may not be revealed when interviewed individually by the researcher such as feelings and
perceptions (Gall et al, 2007). Employing the focus groups aided in the process of
horizonalization because each perception added “something important to the experience”
(Moustakas, 1994, p. 53). After the individual interviews, all participants were invited by email
to participate in the focus group, in which five participants agreed to participate (Appendix H).
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A location that was familiar to participants was chosen and agreed to by the participants. A
standardized open-ended interview format was used, utilizing a set of guided questions
(Appendix I). The focus group session was audio and video recorded for transcription purposes.
Once again, the transcription involved multiple reviews of the recordings and readings of the
transcribed interview to ensure accurate transcription. Focus group participants were allowed to
review the transcription of the focus group session as part of the member checking process. The
video and audio recording of the focus group session were deleted off of each recording device
and the researcher’s computer and stored on the USB drive with the other recordings.
Document Analysis
As part of this process, I requested the participants to provide a copy of their academic
transcript that included completion of a CTE career cluster and participation in a CTE Program
of Study. Participants were able to retrieve this information from the district data coordinator
prior to each individual interview. Three of the participants were unable to provide the
documentation, therefore a FERPA (US Department of Education (n.d.b) release form was
signed by the participants and returned to the researcher prior to the interview (Appendix E).
The consent to release information allowed the researcher to request the documentation from the
appropriate district personnel for the purpose of this study. These documents were used to verify
the CTE concentration pathway of completion, CTE and academic coursework, as well as
certifications/credentials earned by the participants. I requested a FERPA release form for an
additional four of the participant’s so that I could request documentation from the appropriate
personnel regarding their credentials/certifications earned during high school that was not
available through their transcript. This process ensured that the participants had documentation
of their participation in a high school CTE POS. I maintained a separate file folder for each
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participant separate from the data that contained identifiable information throughout the data
collection process.
Data Analysis
Data analysis procedures followed Van Manen’s (1990) recommendations for conducting
a hermeneutical phenomenological study. The following data analysis steps were used.
Epoche/Bracketing
Since I have a direct relationship with the CTE program, bracketing my own
presuppositions were necessary throughout the study. According to Kakkori (2009) “The
phenomenological epoche or reduction works in two ways: it reduces our prejudices about things
and leads us back to the things themselves” (p. 21). Suspending my personal beliefs allowed me
to view the data collected from a fresh perspective investigating the program through the lenses
of others. My personal experiences with educational programs were irrelevant in this study and
were necessary to be set aside in order to collect meaningful data that is rooted on the question at
hand (Moustakas, 1994). In doing so, my presentation to the participants included information
regarding my background in education along with my current role working in the school district.
Describing my role in education gained trust with the participants and built a rapport prior to
beginning the interview process (Gall et al., 2007). Reflexivity was employed throughout the
research (Appendix J) process by remaining consciously aware of my own experiences and
values that I brought to this study (Creswell, 2013).
Memoing and Coding
I began the initial coding process also known as open coding using a selective or
highlighting approach by reading and re-reading each individual transcript text searching for an
overall understanding and meaning from the lived experiences (Van Manen, 1990). During this
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phase, I coded the data by circling and highlighting words and phrases on the printed transcripts
so that I could begin to break down the data into manageable segments (Bailey, 2007; Saldana,
2009), looking for statements and phrases that were essential to the phenomenon (Van Manen,
1990). This process allowed me to immerse myself in the data or to “step into the participants’
shoes as far as possible” (Smith et al., 2009, p.11) and to fully comprehend each interview prior
to dissecting the data (Creswell, 2013). After the initial coding process, I began a focused
coding method by reducing the data from the initial coding by identifying and combining the
data into larger groups (Bailey, 2007; Creswell, 2013; & Saldana, 2009). I noted and highlighted
significant statements using in vivo and descriptive coding (Saldana, 2009). I followed this
process until I had completed all individual transcripts and focus group transcript. By grouping
the highlighted statements, I began to identify recurring themes to understand the structures of
the experience (Van Manen, 1990). I used paper and computer files during this process.
Using Microsoft Word’s Insert Comment feature, I was able to insert memos in the coded
transcripts. This process allowed me to view the codes and memos in a more useful view. Since
memoing allows researchers to reflect analytically on their thoughts (Chenail, Chanail, Cox,
Liscio, McLean, Mowzoon, & Spong, 2006), the memo log was used to record information that
derived from the coding (Bailey, 2007). Van Manen (1990) explains “The insight into the
essence of a phenomenon involves a process of reflectively appropriating, of clarifying, and of
making explicit the structure of meaning of the lived experience” (p. 77). As each theme
emerged, I began to write up each theme and analyze to illustrate a pattern that each participant
shared with the phenomenon. Major and sub themes are discussed in chapter four.
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Horizonalization
Through data organization, I organized data into files to highlight statements that were
noteworthy. These statements helped to provide a greater “understanding of how the participants
experienced the phenomenon” known as horizonalization (Creswell, 2013, p. 82). This process
allowed the researcher to identify recurring themes. Therefore, as each perspective was
presented regarding an individual experience, equal value was placed on each distinctive
statement to gain greater understanding of the meaning behind each experience (Moustakas,
1994).
Trustworthiness
As the researcher, I was concerned with the trustworthiness of the participants within the
study. As an employee in the district where the study was conducted, reporting accurate
information is important. All interviews were audio recorded for accuracy of statements and
transcribed by the researcher. Participants were allowed to review typed transcriptions for
accuracy which was part of the member checking process. Allowing participants to review the
transcripts increased the reliability of this study because statements were transcribed accurately
in order to gather significant statements from among the participants. Digital recordings were
deleted from the tape recorded device and stored in a password protected folder for each
participant on a USB drive that is kept in a locked filing cabinet.
Following Lincoln and Guba’s (1985) model for establishing trustworthiness, three focus
areas were addressed: (a) credibility, (b) dependability, and (c) confirmability. They include
triangulation, peer review, and member checks.
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Triangulation
Triangulation was used to strengthen the credibility, dependability, and confirmability of
the study by using multiple methods to provide corroborating evidence from different sources.
In triangulating, I was able to triangulate information by locating evidence from a variety of
sources to document themes. The sources used in this study to document themes included
personal interviews using an interview guide with the participants (Appendix F), focus group
questions (Appendix G), and documents relative to specific programs of study. The
substantiating evidence from the sources used in the study helped to shed light on the themes
identified from the data (Creswell, 2013). Utilizing varying methods of data sources also helped
help to validate the findings and provide an explanatory framework for the study (Gall et al.,
2007).
Member Checking
Member checking was employed to ensure credibility of the study, which took place
during the data analysis process. Participants were asked to review the data that was collected
from the interviews and focus group. Transcriptions were typewritten into a word processing
document and forwarded to participants through e-mail for review to ensure the data collected
was accurate and credible (Appendix H). Participant review was intended to provide feedback
on the researcher’s findings if any errors were observed to ensure accuracy or if necessary collect
additional data (Gall et al., 2007). After review of the individual transcripts and focus group
transcript, five participants responded to the researcher that they had reviewed the transcripts and
were fine with the transcriptions. One of the participant’s requested that the fillers be removed.
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Peer Review
To further validate the credibility and confirmability of this study, I requested that the
study be reviewed from another educator’s perspective who had achieved a Ph.D. in education
outside of the CTE Program without bias. I provided the emergent themes and interpretations of
the statements from the interviews to the reviewer for review. This process allowed for further
validation to the accuracy of the transcription process and to allow for an outside view of the
conversations collected without illustrating partiality to any of the participant’s responses.
Ethical Considerations
Since human subjects were used in this study, informed consent to include consent forms
from participants were shared with IRB and strictly adhered to. At the request of the district’s
superintendent and to preserve the privacy of potential participants, the selection of participants
was conducted by a third party designated school official. The participants consisted of high
school graduates only from within the last three school years to include 2011-2012, 2012-2013,
and 2013-2014 who met the specified criterion for this study. Participants contacted the
principle investigator directly with their interest to participate in the study. A FERPA release
form was requested by the researcher in request of participant documentation for participants
who were unable to provide the requested documentation (Appendix E).
The procedures, benefits, and risks were discussed with participants verbally and in
writing prior to their participation and a copy of the consent form was provided to the
participants. During the data analysis process, participants were allowed to review the interview
and focus group transcripts to ensure that information was accurately documented and portrayed
from the life experiences of the participants. Confidentiality of participants has been maintained
by using pseudonyms throughout the study so that participants will not be identifiable.
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Participation in the study was strictly voluntary and participants were informed of their
opportunity to withdraw from the study at any time. All requested documentation is maintained
in a locked filing cabinet at the researcher’s home for up to three years, after which will be
destroyed by way of shredder. Digital and audio recordings stored on a password protected USB
drive have been deleted by reformatting the folder.
Summary
Following the accepted practices in a qualitative research design, this methodology
chapter illustrated how a hermeneutical phenomenological study was conducted. I used Van
Manen’s (1990) phenomenological research methods to describe the phenomena through the data
collection and analysis process. I ensured that the execution of research in this study was
credible and trustworthy.
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CHAPTER FOUR: FINDINGS
Overview
The purpose of this phenomenological study was to describe the experiences of graduates
who participated in a Career and Technical Education Program of Study (CTE POS) during high
school. Focusing on the subjective beliefs, attitudes, and values, I utilized a hermeneutical
phenomenological design that allowed me to interpret the participants lived experiences (Kafle,
2011; Van Manen 1990). This process allowed me to capture the essence of the shared
experience of the participants. This chapter presents the key findings obtained from 10 in-depth
interviews, a focus group, and documents.
The following research questions were explored:
Research Question 1: How do high school graduates who participated in a Career and
Technical Education (CTE) Program of Study in North Carolina describe their experiences in
high school?
Research Question 2: What factors influenced the participants’ decision to participate
in a Career and Technical Education Program of Study?
Research Question 3: How do participants perceive Career and Technical Education’s
role in their secondary education experience?
Research Question 4: What do participants attribute to their readiness for entrance to a
post-secondary institution and the workforce after graduating from high school?
Participant Summary
The 10 participants in this study graduated from Southwest High School (pseudonym)
during school years 2011-12, 2012-13, and 2013-14. Three of the participants were male and
seven were female. All of the participants participated in a CTE POS by completing a CTE
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concentration, completion of an articulated and/or dual enrollment course, and earned an
industry-recognized credential. Three of the participants completed a CTE concentration within
the Hospitality and Tourism Cluster, one participant completed in the Business Management and
Administration Cluster, one participant completed in the Business Management and
Administration Cluster as well as the Health Science Cluster, three participants completed in the
Health Science Cluster, one participant completed in the Architecture and Construction Cluster
as well as the STEM Cluster, and one participant completed in the Agriculture, Food & Natural
Resources Cluster, the Architecture and Construction Cluster, and the Manufacturing Cluster. At
the time of this study, six of the participants were enrolled at a four-year university and four of
the participants were enrolled at a two-year post-secondary institution. A total of 10 participants
responded to the researcher’s invitation letter and agreed to participate in the study. Participants
signed a consent form (Appendix D) and were assigned a pseudonym for reporting purposes and
reflective of the culture of the school district.
Participants
Alexis
Alexis (pseudonym) is a 2013 graduate who participated in the Hospitality and Tourism
Program of Study with a focus in culinary arts. During high school, she worked in the school-
based enterprise on campus. She completed dual enrollment courses, Advanced Placement (AP),
honor courses during high school and graduated with honors as a member of the National Honor
Society and as an NC Scholar. She earned the Career Readiness Certification industry-
recognized credential. She is currently attending a four-year university majoring in Pre-Med. At
the time of this study, Alexis was unemployed, but she was tutoring college algebra, organic
chemistry, and physics at her university. Alexis attributes her skills in tutoring to her
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participation in the program of study and being able to peer teach as she progressed in the
program. According to Alexis, “As a head chef, my job was to teach every department of the
culinary arts . . . so being a peer teacher was how I was able to become a tutor this semester.”
Alexis also believes that the CTE program made her a better person stating, “I don’t think I
would be the person I am today if I didn’t follow that pathway in high school.”
Connor
Connor (pseudonym) is a 2014 graduate who participated in the Architecture and
Construction as well as the STEM POS with a focus in computer-aided drafting (CAD). During
high school, Connor participated in sports including motor sports with his family while also
working part-time. He completed AP, honors, articulated courses, and the CTE Advanced
Studies course during high school and graduated with honors as a member of the National Honor
Society. He earned an industry-recognized credential as a Certified AutoDesk User, Microsoft
Office Specialist, and the Career Readiness Certification. He is currently enrolled in a 2-year
post-secondary institution, majoring in mechanical engineering. Connor explains “As far as the
CTE goes, it really did prepare me for the drafting classes in college . . . I mean it [CTE] really
prepared me, and . . . I was ahead as far as that goes.” At the time of this study, Connor was
preparing for a job interview at one of the local advanced manufacturing companies, stating,
“with my WorkKeys score I actually have a job interview . . . I was right at platinum and most of
the jobs up there want you to have a gold or better so if you got platinum they are definitely
interested.”
Hannah
Hannah (pseudonym) is a 2014 graduate who participated in the Business, Management,
and Administration as well as the Health Sciences Program of Study. She completed honors,
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dual-enrollment courses, and completed the CTE Advanced Studies course that allowed her to
complete work-based learning at the local hospital during high school. She earned an industry-
recognized credential as a CNA and the Career Readiness Certification. During high school she
participated in the Native American Student Association (NASA), HOSA, and was a
cheerleader. She is currently enrolled in a four-year university majoring in pre-nursing. At the
time of this study, Hannah explained that she was employed at two locations as a CNA thanks to
her certification earned through her program of study. She stated, “It [CTE] made me realize
that I really do like the nursing field.”
Ethan
Ethan (pseudonym) is a 2013 graduate who participated in the Business, Management,
and Administration Program of Study. During high school Ethan was an athlete and joined
FBLA during his senior year. He completed AP, honors, and articulated courses during high
school and graduated with honors as member of the National Honors Society and as an NC
Scholar. He earned the Career Readiness Certification industry-recognized credential. He is
currently enrolled at a four-year university. At the time of this study, Ethan was participating in
a paid internship with an investment bank. Ethan stated, “I think my experience with them
[CTE] was really good . . . having that background before I went to college was really helpful.”
Victoria
Victoria (pseudonym) is a 2014 graduate who participated in the Health Sciences
Program of Study. She completed honors, articulated courses, the CTE Advanced Studies course
and completed a CTE Internship during high school. She earned an industry-recognized
credential as a Microsoft Office Specialist and the Career Readiness Certification. She is
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currently enrolled in a 2-year post-secondary institution majoring in human services. Victoria
explained,
I have the passion and the desire for nursing, health science, but the actual nursing that I
want to do, it showed, like you are not built for that. You don’t want that specific career.
So it [CTE] showed me okay you don’t have to actually do this type of nursing you have
many opportunities to go into.
Kayla
Kayla (pseudonym) is a 2012 graduate who participated in the Health Sciences Program
of Study. She completed AP, honors, and articulated courses during high school and graduated
with honors as a member of the National Honor Society. During high school she served as a
volunteer at the local hospital, participated in clinicals through her health science courses, and
HOSA. She earned the Career Readiness Certification industry-recognized credential. She is
currently enrolled in a four-year university aspiring to become a doctor. Kayla explained,
If I didn’t participate in CTE in high school . . . I really wouldn’t have known what I was
getting myself into in college. I wouldn’t have been as prepared at all . . . CTE has made
me want to continue my education, and it has motivated me to go to medical school more.
Kayla has also served as a tutor for her university.
Emily
Emily (pseudonym) is a 2014 graduate who participated in the Hospitality and Tourism
Program of Study with a focus in culinary arts. During high school, she worked in the school-
based enterprise on campus. She completed AP, honors, dual enrollment courses, and completed
a CTE Internship during high school. Emily explained, “I enjoyed it [culinary] . . . and it was
probably one of the best experiences I got out of high school.” She earned the Career Readiness
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Certification industry-recognized credential. She is currently enrolled in a four-year university
majoring in pre-pharmacy. At the time of this study, Emily was employed at a local pharmacy as
a paid intern.
Kiera
Kiera (pseudonym) is a 2014 graduate who participated in the Hospitality and Tourism
Program of Study with a focus in culinary arts. She completed honors, dual enrollment, and
completed a CTE Internship and graduated with honors as a member of the National Honor
Society. During high school, she also worked in the school-based enterprise on campus,
completed several CTE courses in the health science pathway including the certified nursing
assistant course through dual enrollment, and served as a volunteer at her local hospital.
According to Kiera,
I started volunteer work at the hospital and even though I was in culinary and loved it and
I really liked learning a lot and being in there. So it was all about what I know would
help me further in life, what I could be successful in. I feel like nursing would be better
for me and definitely volunteering at the hospital helped me a lot.
She earned an industry-recognized credential as a CNA, a Microsoft Office Specialist, and the
Career Readiness Certification. Kiera explained, “I mean the CNA class, it did help me decide
that I wanted to be in nursing.” She is currently enrolled in a four-year university majoring in
nursing.
Tyler
Tyler (pseudonym) is a 2014 graduate who participated in the Agriculture and Natural
Resources, Architecture and Construction with a focus in drafting, as well as the Manufacturing
Program of Study. During high school he participated in FFA. He completed honors, dual
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enrollment, and the CTE Advanced Studies course during high school. He earned the Career
Readiness Certification industry-recognized credential. He is currently enrolled at a 2-year post-
secondary institution, majoring in civil engineering. According to Tyler, “I mean its [CTE]
helping me now, my drafting. I am way ahead of the other kids that were in my drafting class in
college.” At the time of this study, Tyler was employed aspiring to one day own his own
business stating “I kind of want to be my own boss.”
Elizabeth
Elizabeth (pseudonym) is a 2013 graduate who participated in the Health Sciences
Program of Study. She completed honors, articulated courses, and the CTE Internship. During
high school she served as a volunteer for her local church and participated in HOSA, while also
working part-time. She earned the Career Readiness Certification industry-recognized
credential. She is currently enrolled at a 2-year post-secondary institution, majoring in pre-
physical education. She had recently changed her major where she previously majored in
nursing, but when describing her experiences with the health science program, Elizabeth
explained,
I enjoyed the health classes, I learned a lot. Whenever I look back, whenever I took my
CNA class, I looked back and I was like ‘oh, I took this in high school’. So it was just
something I reviewed not anything new. It helped me in just everyday life to be able to
go back on those experiences.
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Table 2
Participant CTE Program of Study
Participants Work-based
Learning
Completed a
Dual Enrollment
and/or
Articulated
Course
Completed an
Honors, Advanced
Placement (AP)
and/ or CTE
Advanced Studies
Course
Credential Earned Member of CTSO/
Honor Society
P1-Alexis School-based
Enterprise Dual Enrollment Honors and AP
Courses Career Readiness National Honors
Society
NC Scholars
P2-Connor Articulated
Course Honors, AP
Courses, and
Advanced Studies
Career Readiness
Autodesk CAD Certified
User
Microsoft Office
Specialist
National Honor
Society
P3-Hannah Volunteer
Service Dual Enrollment Honors and
Advanced Studies Career Readiness
Certified Nursing
Assistant (CNA)
HOSA
NASA
P4-Ethan Articulated
Course Honors and AP
Courses Career Readiness FBLA
National Honors
Society
NC Scholars
P5-Victoria Internship Articulated
Course Honors and
Advanced Studies Career Readiness
Microsoft Office
Specialist
National Honor
Society
P6-Kayla Internship
Volunteer
Service
Articulated
Course Honors and AP
Courses Career Readiness HOSA
P7-Emily Internship
School-based
Enterprise
Dual Enrollment Honors and AP
Courses Career Readiness National Honor
Society
P8-Kiera Internship
School-based
Enterprise
Volunteer
Service
Dual Enrollment
and Articulated
Course
Honors Career Readiness
Certified Nursing
Assistant (CNA)
Microsoft Office
Specialist
National Honor
Society
P9-Tyler Dual Enrollment Honors and
Advanced Studies Career Readiness
FFA
P10-
Elizabeth Internship
Volunteer
Service
Articulated
Course Honors Career Readiness
HOSA
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Results
The research process included in-depth interviews, a focus group, and analysis of
documents. During the immersion process of the data, I used a coding process and then clustered
significant statements into categories noting similarities and differences among the responses of
the participants. Four essential themes emerged from the analysis process that describe the
essence of the phenomenon; the experiences of CTE Program of Study participants. The four
themes were: (a) the learning process was enhanced, (b) influences on decision-making, (c)
learning with understanding supports knowledge use in new situations, and (d) guidance and
advisement needs to be purposeful. According to the qualitative hermeneutical design of this
study, the following section provides a narrative of each theme and sub-theme reflective of the
participants’ words as well as my own interpretation.
Themes
The Learning Process was Enhanced
This was the first theme that emerged in this study providing answers to research
question one, how do high school graduates who participated in a Career and Technical
Education (CTE) Program of Study in North Carolina describe their experiences in high school?;
research question three, how do participants perceive Career and Technical Education’s role in
their secondary education experience?; and research question four, what do participants attribute
to their readiness for entrance to a post-secondary institution and the workforce after graduating
from high school? By participating in a CTE program of study, participants’ learning process
was enhanced. This theme emerged in several ways throughout the analysis process. Four
distinct sub-themes were identified within the main theme, which were relevant and engaging;
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career exploration and real-world exposure; learning motivation and relationships; and peer
teaching.
Relevant and engaging. According to the Glossary of Education Reform (2013)
“Personal relevance occurs when learning is connected to an individual student’s interests,
aspirations, and life experiences” (Para 2). Seven of the participants reported that their CTE
POS was relevant to their interests, which intrigued their learning process. Ethan shared, “I’ve
always been interested in business and I wanted to know more about business and how business
works and why people think the way they think within the business structure.” He continued,
“Particularly the accounting course that I took with [Ms. CTE Teacher] really helped me realize
the principles of business because accounting is the language of business.” Kayla who is an
aspiring doctor said, “I was very interested in the classes that I took because I knew I wanted to
go into the medical field.” Tyler described it as “I loved them [CTE classes], because they were
more hands-on classes like the agriculture and I liked my drafting classes because I’ve always
been interested just like in drafting and engineering.” Elizabeth expressed, “I enjoyed the health
classes, I learned a lot.” Later in her interview she stated, “I enjoyed learning about the anatomy
of the body and everything.”
A primary factor to participants’ learning was being involved with hands-on activities
that met their interest and learning styles. Past research indicates that engaging activities expand
on a student’s curiosities and interests through active experiments that are practical and
meaningful (Dewey, 1897; Gutek, 2011; Haltinner, 2012). In this study, participants believed
that the hands-on approach to learning within their CTE classes were relevant to their interest,
helping to increase their knowledge of the content while keeping them actively engaged. Alexis
explained, “With my culinary program, I couldn’t just grab a book and study, I had to work
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hands-on and try to rely on recipes and things of that nature to kind of get my good grades.”
Victoria described it as, “Just being able to get the hands-on you know. I’m a hands-on, visual
learner, so you know how we learn by doing and seeing.” Emily said,
I feel like learning hands-on having that as an advantage because it’s not the traditional
way to learn. You actually get up and do things and that’s how you learn it. So I guess
it’s applied learning. That was an advantage, because I am not a traditional learner.
Participants’ shared how much they liked their CTE classes because of the hands-on approach to
learning. Hannah explained, “I liked all of my CTE classes. They were all like, they made them
fun. It wasn’t just like sitting in class listening to the teacher talk . . . in all my CTE courses we
had activities to do.” During the focus group Connor expressed “I think that is why I liked CAD
so much, it was so, CAD was so much hands-on.” Kiera described it as,
I learned a lot. I don’t know it was just an interesting thing. It [culinary] was way
different from a lot of the other courses. You actually do things instead of just sitting in
front of a book. It [culinary] was more hands-on than just sitting in the class learning
stuff.
In addition to the hands-on approach to learning, participants reported that engaging in projects,
while they were challenging increased their ability in learning. Past research suggest that
projects help place emphasis on contextualizing learning to enhance content knowledge (Brand
et al., 2013; Holzer & Monthey, 2013). When describing his advanced drafting course, Tyler
explained,
It was just, it was more detail than what the rest of them had been. I mean, the first one
you know they would give us a drawing and then you drafted it. Well then like in our
final one, we had to go to our house and do the whole layout of our own personal house,
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like the electrical layout. It was just a lot, a lot more to do. It was still fun; it was just
more challenging.
Connor shared, “We built a house in architecture and I thought that was pretty cool. It took
pretty much most of the semester. You know you saw a lot of them turned out really good.”
Kiera said, “In my Culinary II class we had to physically create a restaurant like not build
one, but we had to draw one out and go through every single process of finance and figuring out
what the restaurant needed.”
Participants reported finding enjoyment within their CTE program of study, which
increased their engagement in learning. Connor, Elizabeth, Emily, Hannah, Kayla, Kiera, Tyler,
and Victoria all reported how much they enjoyed their CTE classes. Emily said, “I enjoyed
every minute of being in those classes. That’s what I looked forward to. I looked forward to
going to culinary.” Later in her interview Emily shared, “I probably would not have come to
school as much had I not been in culinary.” Kiera explained,
Like the culinary program which I thoroughly enjoyed being in which was a CTE course.
I really enjoyed it and I talk about it all the time with a lot of my friends in college and
we’re like let’s cook, but we don’t know what to cook, like they didn’t have the level of
culinary that I had and a lot of stuff that I had that I learned how to do. I enjoyed it.
Connor, Ethan, Kiera, Tyler and Victoria felt that while they were in school, being in
their CTE POS allowed them an opportunity to relax while remaining focused on their goals
because of their interest in the courses. Kiera, who participated in culinary from 10th through
12th grade, explained that her program helped her to stay focused through high school, while also
providing her with an outlet to express her creative side. Connor who participated in drafting
from 10th through 12th grade explained that when he became stressed with his academic classes
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CAD served as a way for him to take a break and focus his attention on something he enjoyed
and was interested in doing. Ethan found that outside of the general courses, CTE classes gave
him something else to focus on. Victoria described it as,
The CTE classes I enjoyed them because they gave me, it was like my home away from
class, that was my time to breathe . . . it was something I enjoyed doing. So I was able to
learn what I wanted to learn. I was interested in it.
When describing the importance of her participation in a CTE POS, Kiera explained,
It’s really like an escape like if you are focusing on that stuff sometimes, you can pretend
like you’re really doing this. You can imagine yourself, can I really see myself doing this
in a couple years or you might just enjoy it to where you don’t even see it as a class
anymore. I know I did for culinary.
Tyler stated,
If I wouldn’t have had my CTE classes. I mean those were the classes that I looked
forward to. . . I mean going to one of my CTE, like my agriculture class or drafting it was
like I was in school, but then again it wasn’t because it was something I was interested in,
it didn’t bother me to actually you know spend an hour and half in there.
Career exploration and real-world exposure. In terms of career exploration and real-
world exposure, participants were able to learn more about themselves and the world of work by
participating in a variety of work-based learning opportunities. Participants believed that their
CTE program exposed them to a variety of careers that broadened their knowledge and expanded
on their curiosities by showing them a variety of career possibilities. When describing the
importance of CTE programs Emily stated, “I mean, even if you don’t find it relevant to what
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you are going to do, at least it gives you a possibility, you know that career field is open.”
Victoria explained,
I would say it’s very important because high school is where you need to start planning
what you want to do for your future and the CTE program can help a lot of students with
that as far as giving them the basics of that career.
Kiera described it as,
If you don’t know what you want to do a CTE course whether being in the CTE program
can help you decide what you want to do because you are kind of doing the stuff itself. . .
It can really help you understand if you want to be in that field of study when you get out
of high school or if you want to go somewhere else.
During the focus group, Kayla explained,
You get to see what you don’t like. Like maybe you know I don’t want to go down this
path, and you know you find what you like better. I think that has also helped a lot with
CTE, just understanding the aspect that you don’t like and it brings you to, you know
what you like to do.
Participants reported that having the opportunity to participate in outside experiences were
important to them during their program of study giving them a chance to see first-hand what
different career fields would entail. Emily said that participating in catering events really
encouraged her to continue in her program of study through high school. According to Alexis,
CTE courses are very important. Umm, just speaking off the Culinary Arts Program,
they would set up these like field trips and you would go and cater events. You would
just see the people light up once you gave them a plate of food. I think that is so good
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especially around the [county] when there so much trouble you can get into, those field
trips meant a lot to kids.
When describing the importance of CTE programs on his secondary experience, Connor
explained, “Very important, because in the drafting classes you know engineers design and that
kind of gets you in the right mind set of how an engineer would think in the drafting classes.”
During the interview, Connor laughed and stated,
I definitely think, this may sound funny, if they would have had drafting in middle school
I would have taken it over art, chorus, or band . . . but if there would have been drafting
in middle school, which I mean you know it branched out into high school by the 10th
grade, but I probably would have known what I wanted to do in middle school if I would
have had CAD or any CTE course.
Hannah explained the importance as,
I think it [CTE] is very important, because . . . it helped me decide that this is what I want
to do. Like I still, I don’t know, there are still times when I think I want to be a lawyer or
something like that, and then I always come back to nursing.
According to Kiera,
So like being in the CTE courses the teachers, depending on what they do I know [Mr.
CTE Teacher] and [Ms. CTE Teacher] did a really good job making sure you had a
hands-on understanding of what it is like in the real world. It can really help you
understand if you want to be in that field of study when you get out of high school or if
you want to go somewhere else.
Five of the participants participated in a health science work-based learning experience that
provided them with real-world exposure to the medical profession. Hannah, who had the
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opportunity to participate in an internship experience through her advanced studies course,
discussed how the internship helped her to determine which particular pathway she would pursue
after high school. She explained,
It showed me that I did not want to do respiratory therapy, but I couldn’t deal with the
mucous and stuff and I learned that from that internship. I thought I could do respiratory
therapy because I have asthma. I think I would like working at the hospital rather than
working at a doctor’s office, which I know I don’t want to do respiratory therapy and I
learned that from that internship.
Victoria, who has always wanted to be a nurse participated in the internship program and stated,
If I hadn’t participated in the internship I wouldn’t have realized like the neglect that
many older adults go through in retirement homes and it showed me another side that
nursing can give an individual. It’s not just about money it’s about the passion to it. So
you have to really want that passion to deal with individuals like that.
While enrolled in medical sciences, Kayla participated in clinicals having the opportunity to
work in a doctor’s office. According to Kayla,
It [CTE] prepared me a lot . . . probably one of my favorite classes that I took with CTE
was . . . medical sciences where I got to take clinicals and I was able to go to the
women’s center and work with [Ms. Doctor] and her staff. I really enjoyed that class
because I want to become an obstetrician. So I was able to be in that office and see a lot
of things hands-on. So I was grateful for that opportunity.
When describing the importance of participating in the internship within her CTE POS, Elizabeth
explained,
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I enjoyed my experience, I learned a lot. Well with [Ms. Nurse] the woman I did my
internship with, she taught me. I sat and I watched her and would observe her and how
patient she was with the patients. She would even help the patients with the SKATS bus
to get to and from the infusion clinic. So it kind of influenced me to want to do more.
Later in her interview, Elizabeth shared,
It [internship] helped motivate me. I saw the nurses making a difference and helping
people. So I said, I want to do that, I want to be like that. They were at work having fun,
they were not at work saying ‘Oh God, I hate my job’ they were at work saying ‘I love
my job, I’m glad that I am here, I want to do the best job I can’ and I wanted to be like
that.
Kiera volunteered at the hospital for three summers and completed the nursing assistant course
through dual enrollment within her program of study, which helped her to determine that she
wanted to become a nurse. She explained,
I learned a lot because I was in the emergency room so I got a lot of hands-on work in
there. Everybody liked me so I was in every different part. Back then they were like as
long as they are willing to teach me and they are there to teach me I can pretty much do
anything so I learned a lot and I did a lot, I did a whole lot.
Five of the participants who participated in CTSOs explained how those opportunities helped
them learn even more regarding their career goals. When describing his experience Ethan stated,
FBLA, it was great. We went to a couple state competitions. My best friend and I
competed in one competition, I think it was issues on business or something like that . . .
that was just a great experience. Like being able to research stuff about business. It was
whether or not the government should cut taxes on businesses or continue to tax, like the
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pros and cons, like just being able to research stuff like that and learn more about it really
did help me realize that business is something I’m interested in.
Tyler explained,
I participated in FFA, and we did a tractor driving competition one time, in [city] or
somewhere like that. We visited John Deere and we went to Wake Tech in Raleigh to see
their program. . . . They were good, I learned a lot. Umm, I learned that in high school
the John Deere place would give you like an internship type thing that if you went to
school at Wake Tech to work for John Deere during the summer time you would have a
full-time job with them and then once you graduate you would have a full time job for
John Deere. Which I almost did, but I changed my mind.
While he didn’t pursue this path, the experience provided him with confirmation on what he
really wanted to do. Tyler said, “I didn’t want to be a mechanic my whole life. I kind of want to
be my own boss.” Elizabeth, Kayla and Hannah, each participated in HOSA which helped to
motivate them to continue down the health sciences pathway.
Learning motivation and relationships. Past research indicates that a motivation to
learn can directly be impacted through the relationships that are developed (Allen, 2010; Jacques
& Potemski, 2014). During high school, participants reported that developing relationships with
others were an important part of their overall high school experiences. These relationships
stemmed from faculty/staff members, to peers, to individuals within the community. All
participants spoke about the relationships that they developed with their teachers within CTE and
how the teachers encouraged and supported them throughout their learning. Kayla stated, “All
my teachers were very serious about, you know making sure that their students learned what
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needed to be learned.” Kiera, Elizabeth, and Alexis, explained how the teachers were patient and
supportive of them, taking out time to ensure that they were learning.
Participants also reported that developing relationships with teachers had a positive
impact on them. According to Ethan, “The teachers that taught the courses . . . were great
teachers and were teachers I had heard great things about so it was just a win, win for me.” He
continued, “It only takes one course, one teacher, and one little thing to just have you intrigued
and interested for the rest of your life.” Tyler found that being enrolled in his CTE POS helped
in forming relationships with teachers because you would have the same teacher throughout the
program. He explained, “Another thing I liked . . . is you always had the same teacher, so if you
started out with the first one, you went all the way to the fourth one, you know, you knew you
would always have the same teacher pretty much.” Kiera stated that the teachers were honest
with her and were great at keeping her focused on her goals over the years. During the focus
group session Kayla reiterated with the group how the teachers positively impacted her because
of their involvement with the students in the program. She explained, “I think the big thing with
you know CTE is probably the teachers. The teachers are exciting and . . . very involved with
the students they interact with the material. That’s what positively impacted me.” Although
Emily was placed in the culinary arts program and did not self-select, she immediately became
involved in the program and interacted with people in the course. According to Emily,
I liked the relationships I developed in the class with both you know [Mr. CTE Teacher]
and [Mr. CTE Teacher] and the people in the class. Once you keep moving up, you get
close to those people because you’ve known them so long. So I would describe my
experience overall as pretty positive.
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Kiera, Emily, and Alexis who had the opportunity to work in the school-based enterprise
on campus, found that they were able to develop relationships and network with the community
by participating in the culinary arts program. Kiera explained,
I mean you can build relationships that way. There were a lot of people in the
community who I know their faces. . .I know if I think about it hard enough I can
probably think about what drink they ordered every time and what they usually got when
they came just from being in culinary. I talked to them and I formed relationships with
them. I mean that’s how you network, you can network from that. I think it is something
really important.
Emily stated,
I liked working in the restaurant. I found that I enjoyed the people that were coming into
the restaurant because there were a couple of regulars and I found I was like I’m enjoying
this, why not keep doing it.
During the focus group session, all five participants found that developing relationships while in
high school within CTE was an important part of networking. Hannah who was rather shy
during high school, discussed joining a sorority in college and how networking is an important
part of that process in helping you find jobs later in life. She stated, “So you have to learn early
on to learn how to network and . . . with the CTE program it helps out.” Connor found that by
having a smaller class size in his CTE program allowed him to network with his classmates. In
doing so they would discuss their ideas regarding projects and collaborate to provide feedback to
each other. According to Kiera,
Had I not met as many people as I had from the different programs of study that I was in,
I wouldn’t be the type of open person I am. Because when I first came to high school I
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was really quiet, I didn’t really talk too much to anyone except for who I knew. So
networking wasn’t a thing that I had really my mind set on, so once I got to culinary, and
the CNA it was kind of something I had to do, because I really do like helping people, but
I didn’t know how to initiate that conversation. Now I’m just like a little bit more open.
Kiera also explained how important learning how to network would be on your future career
goals by getting out and meeting people that could potentially help you later in life. Kayla and
Alexis believed that having the opportunities to develop relationships and network in high school
had made them a better-rounded student.
Developing relationships with peers can also play a pivotal role in motivating learning.
Kiera and Kayla spoke about the interaction within their program with their peers. Kiera stated,
“I started making friends. So like one of my friends was in culinary with me, but then I made
some other friends in other classes and we said let’s do it again because we really liked it.”
While Kayla explained that she was very serious about her education and so were her peers that
she had in her health science classes.
Peer teaching. Peer teaching can be a beneficial tool in the learning process, where
students are teaching and learning from each other. In this study, participants used their
knowledge to teach others, but in the process increasing their learning. When discussing ways to
study in culinary, Alexis explained, “I would look different pictures up. I would draw different
things on the whiteboard, I would try to teach it to other kids to help me learn it.” She explained
that as a head chef in culinary she was responsible for teaching other students within the different
departments relying on what she had learned from her teacher. As she has progressed to college
and has become a tutor, she explained,
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I never thought it would go that far. You know I thought it was something I would do for
about four years and put it to the side, but when I got to college I used it [peer teaching]
even more. I didn’t realize the older you get the more patience you need, so the patience
that [Mr. CTE Teacher] and [Mr. CTE Teacher] taught me to teach my other classmates
is the same patience I need to teach these students that are struggling in physics, organic
chemistry, and college algebra.
Emily also worked in the school-based enterprise as a lead and intern which allowed her to
collaborate, work as a team, and peer teach on a regular basis. She explained, “I found that
writing on a whiteboard and teaching other people things that I’ve learned is how I learn. Like,
so it opened my eyes on how I do learn.” When I asked her about her opportunities with peer
teaching, Emily provided great detail as to her experience with this learning process. According
to Emily,
By Culinary II I was already teaching, because when you come into culinary you are like
standing around at first and you are like ‘what is this’? because you are in a kitchen
environment and you know you may have never been in that type of environment. It was
constantly someone was coming up and asking me ‘hey how do I do this’? Whether it
was ‘how do I cut this’ or ‘how do I make this’ or ‘where does this go?’ It was
constantly teaching people, especially when I moved onto as an intern, because [Mr. CTE
Teacher] would teach me how to make something then I would have to teach the people
who were going to be on the line that week how to do it. There was applied learning in
that class non-stop…There was constantly different things that you could be teaching
someone, whether it was how to make this or what the correct steps are or what the
correct cut is. Yea, I felt like I was always teaching someone in that class.
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Emily explained that now that she is in college, she has had the opportunity to teach others by
providing tutoring sessions. She explained, “I noticed when I started teaching her, my grades
started going up.”
When discussing the advantages of participating in a CTE POS, Elizabeth found that she
had an advantage to other students because she had a stronger foundation to build upon. With
this, she explained how she is able to use the learning that she received to teach others in her
college classes. Elizabeth described it as,
Well say we had confusion in the class about something and the teacher didn’t understand
how to explain it, I could take the way that I learned it and show them the way that I
learned it and use that to help another student to where they could understand the
material.
When I asked Connor about the importance of participating in a CTE Program of Study on his
future plans, he began to describe his experiences now in college with peer teaching. Connor
explained, “Let’s see in Drafting 151, we had about 30 people in that class, I pretty much helped
the teacher, teach the class. I mean it helped me a lot as far as the CAD classes and everything.”
With a laugh he continued,
I think my teacher, my professor actually kind of wondered why I was in her class, but
she enjoyed and appreciated the help with having someone you know having somebody
that could help her with such a big class because that is one of the larger classes there.
Theme one, the learning process was enhanced, provided answers to research question
one, how do high school graduates who participated in a Career and Technical Education (CTE)
Program of Study in North Carolina describe their experiences in high school?; research question
three, how do participants perceive Career and Technical Education’s role in their secondary
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education experience?; and research question four, what do participants attribute to their
readiness for entrance to a post-secondary institution and the workforce after graduating from
high school? Theme one emerged throughout the analysis process and four distinct sub-themes
were identified within the main theme which were, relevant and engaging; career exploration and
real-world exposure; learning motivation and relationships; and peer teaching.
Participants reported that participating in their selected CTE POS provided them with
hands-on learning that was relevant and engaging. The opportunities to participate in career
exploration activities such as field trips along with the real-world exposure presented through
CTSOs, volunteer experiences, and internships gave them a first-hand look at the career
opportunities that are available. The relationships that participants developed with their CTE
teachers helped to increased their motivation to learn in the program. Additionally, the
opportunity to engage in peer teaching helped the participants to understand their process of
learning that has carried over to their post-secondary studies.
Influences on Decision-Making
This was the second theme identified in this study, answering research question two
which was what factors influenced the participants’ decision to participate in a Career and
Technical Education Program of Study? The influences on decision-making provides an
understanding of the participants’ decision to participate in a CTE POS. This theme emerged in
several ways throughout the analysis process and four distinct sub-themes were identified within
the main theme. They were student interest; family; faculty/staff; and college preparatory
graduation requirements.
Student interest. When I asked participants what motivated them to select their chosen
POS, student interest in a particular career path or subject matter was one of the top reasons all
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participants’ reported. Ethan explained that he was always good in math and with numbers
which sparked his interest with business. Elizabeth, Hannah, Kayla, and Victoria reported that
they had always enjoyed the health care field, which is why they chose health science. Victoria
stated “I always dreamed of being a nurse.” Hannah believed that by completing in health
science she would be better prepared for college. She explained “I wanted to be a nurse so I
wanted to take as many health science courses that I could while in high school to…prepare
myself for college.” Hannah also explained that while she has always wanted to go into nursing,
she enjoyed science which also influenced her decision to choose the health science pathway.
According to Kayla,
Ever since I was probably about 10 years old I knew that I wanted to be a doctor and so
being involved with like the health science classes you know was very hands-on like I
learned a lot of the medical terminology in high school and . . . I can honestly say that it
has opened a door for me.
Tyler who participated in multiple CTE POS expressed how his interest in agriculture came from
growing up on the farm stating “the agriculture I grew up around farming, so I mean I knew it. I
pretty much knew the basics of all that so that”, with welding, it was just something he wanted to
learn, stating “Then welding, I don’t know I always wanted to weld so that is why I took that
class.” Later Tyler continued to say,
I’ve always known that I wanted to do something in like the engineering field and with
me owning a business. Like with the tractors I knew agriculture would help me with you
know maintenance and all that. I’ve always had an idea of what I wanted to do.
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Alexis, Emily, and Kiera who participated in culinary found that their love for food
interested them in their selected program of study. When discussing her motivation for
participation Alexis explained,
I love food. Food is what I wake up in the morning and think about. With culinary arts it
just fit into my life perfectly. Even though I went on to college to major in umm pre-
med, I still love food today. So that is why I chose the Culinary Arts Program.
Kiera explained that she loved food which helped to influence her, but as she began to form
relationships within the classes and enjoyed learning in the course, she continued with the
culinary pathway to become a CTE completer. Although Emily did not originally select culinary
as her CTE POS choice, after she was enrolled in the course she became more and more
interested through her love for food as well. Emily stated, “When I got in the class I found it was
something I enjoyed. So I was like hum I can learn how to cook, which I’ve always wanted to
do because I enjoyed food so much.” Alexis, Emily, and Kiera found that while they had a
passion for food, they enjoyed learning through cooking. Each of these participants completed
the culinary arts pathway. Emily and Kiera also participated in the culinary internship program
during their senior year.
Family. Participants reported that their family had an influence on their decision to
select their CTE POS. Connor and Tyler who participated in the drafting pathway, both
expressed how their family members had pursued similar careers. Tyler explained that his dad
was a mechanical engineer stating, “That is what my dad does so, he was always doing it so.”
While Connor found that he enjoyed learning more about his brother’s career. According to
Connor,
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My . . . program of study was CAD [Architecture and Construction] so, I guess my
brother was in CAD, he took CAD and has his engineering degree and I had seen some
stuff that he had done during you know, with him trying to get his degree and now with
his job that he has now. I kind of liked that so I took a bit of interest in it and found out
that is what I wanted to do.
Hannah explained that both she and her mother had experienced health problems in the past,
which inspired her to pursue nursing. By participating in the health science CTE POS she
explained, “It [CTE] has shown me what you can do to help others.”
Alexis, Kayla, and Victoria explained how their parents were influential in ensuring that
they made intelligent decisions in high school regarding their studies. Alexis explained,
In middle school my mom taught there and she always pushed for me to take the highest,
hardest classes that I could. She said if I am prepared early, I’ll be ready in the long run. .
. and then in high school I just, built on that foundation that she instilled in me.
According to Kayla, “My parents were very influential on my education and made sure I knew
the importance of school. Like you know you are going to go to college and this and that and
they expected a lot from me.” Victoria stated, “My mother was always there to support me.”
Faculty/staff. Past research indicates that when ensuring students are meeting the
requirements of a POS that CTE teachers were found to provide guidance to students in these
areas (Alfeid & Bhattacharya, 2012). When I asked participants who provided guidance and
advisement regarding their selected CTE POS, participants reported that their CTE teacher(s)
encouraged them to participate in their selected POS. Eight of the participants expressed that
their CTE teachers provided guidance within their POS. When discussing her CTE POS
participation, Emily explained, “[Mr. CTE Teacher] he seemed to enjoy having me in his class
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and he talked me into doing it and the next year I started loving it even more.” Victoria stated, “I
always had teachers to help me to choose which classes were best and to suggest ‘oh you need to
take this class because you are good in this’. According to Kayla,
It would have been my CTE teachers actually because you know most of them were in
the medical field you know they had took those classes already and stuff like that. Like I
had a few teachers from CTE who were nurses and stuff like that and so they knew what
classes I needed to take and they knew like how to be prepared for medical school and
the classes I would have to take in college.
Elizabeth stated, “I would go talk so like [Ms. CTE Teacher] the teacher and she should would
tell us the different areas and fields we could go into in health care, and we would talk about it in
my classes.” Kiera attributed her influence to her culinary teachers as well as her school
counselor. She explained, [Ms. Counselor], [Mr. CTE Teacher], and [Mr. CTE Teacher], they
kept motivating me saying you know you can do better than this, come on. So that’s what
pushed me to keep going.” Tyler explained, “Certain teachers, like my drafting teacher, like I
took my first drafting course and she advised me to take the next one and same thing with my
agriculture teacher.” Ethan shared “You have to have people pushing you in the right direction.
[Ms. CTE Teacher] was like very influential in us doing well.”
Elizabeth, Hannah, Ethan and Victoria reported that support staff and school counselors
on campus assisted them with finding out more about their career interest and narrowing down
their selected POS. In her interview, Elizabeth shared that in addition to talking with her CTE
teacher, she would talk with her counselor about what she wanted to do in the future. Hannah
explained,
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I had [Ms. Support Staff], she would come and talk to us and ask us what our interests
and stuff. That kind of helped me out too because she talked about all the different fields
we can go into and helped us narrow down what we liked. And then from like going to
the guidance counselor and talking to them that helped out too.
According to Victoria,
They [Ms. CTE Support Staff and Ms. Support Staff] helped me decide health science
because they were like you enjoy doing this because we worked throughout the summer
and we had to take a test on interest and that’s what I scored highest in. So they were
telling me you need to continue doing that and you could be CTE completer.
Ethan shared that his mentor, a school faculty member was very influential in helping him
choose the business path. Ethan explained,
I told them what I want to do long-term and what I thought I was interested in as far as a
career. I always wanted to do something within business. That is a pretty broad
spectrum so they help me narrow it down and that’s how I ended up taking that
accounting course.
College preparatory graduation requirements. The North Carolina graduation
requirements provides students with a guideline for choosing core academic courses. For college
preparatory enrollments students must meet the minimum requirements of 21 credits outlined by
the state in addition to any local requirements (NCDPI-Graduation Requirements, n.d.). Students
then have the option of choosing their elective courses, which would include CTE and dual
enrollment found in a CTE POS. Past research indicates that CTE POS are enhanced when CTE
is aligned to a rigorous academic course of study (Brand et al., 2013; Lewis et al., 2009; Meeder
& Suddreth, 2012). In this study, each participant completed a rigorous CTE and academic
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course of study through their CTE POS. While all participants’ reported that they chose their
course selections based on the graduation requirements, when discussing their motivation behind
their course selections in their CTE POS, a variety of responses surfaced.
Participants in this study chose a rigorous course of study to better prepare for college.
Ethan, Connor, and Tyler reported that they chose AP and/or honors courses because they gave
them a challenge. Emily found that she enjoyed science, stating “My science related classes
were because you know I moved on to college to become a science major and eventually a
pharmacist and as you can imagine there is quite a bit of science involved in all of that.” Kiera
chose to enroll in dual enrollment courses over AP courses. Both courses provide the
opportunity to earn college credit, however, Kiera explained, “I chose dual enrollment versus
taking AP because I felt like I knew for a fact those college classes would transfer over as long
as I passed.”
According to Alexis,
I wanted to take classes that would prepare me for college. I said I am here for these four
years of high school, and I need to be as ready as possible to get to college. That led me
to choose my dual enrollment classes, my Advanced Placement classes and my CTE
classes gave me an all-around background that made me become a better student.
Kayla explained,
I took a lot of honors and AP classes just because I knew. . . I wanted to you know be on
a different level and I knew that taking honors and AP classes would push me. Umm,
and I knew early on that high school you know was going to prepare me for college so I
made sure that I took classes that would just get me ahead for college. I always have
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known that I wanted to go to medical school and I wanted to make sure that I was staying
on the right path in regards to that.
Participants reported that the selection of elective courses was based on their interest.
Elizabeth, Hannah, and Victoria discussed that when choosing their elective courses, they
wanted to explore a variety of courses to see if they would enjoy those particular fields. Victoria
explained, “Well a lot of my like electives was based on interest” and she continued “I would say
the interest with a lot of electives.” According to Elizabeth,
I remember certain classes like some classes like early childhood development, I took
that, I wanted to see if I liked the daycare perspective in life. I mean I liked it, but I knew
it wasn’t for me. I took marketing and I liked that, but I couldn’t see me doing that
forever.
Hannah stated,
I just added whatever like what my interest were like the health science. I wanted to try
Foods I, I believe, I took Business Law, umm, I guess I wanted to make sure nursing was
what I wanted to do, so I wanted to try a little bit of everything.
When I asked participants what courses they found most challenging in their program of
study, participants reported that their CTE classes and math classes were most challenging. Most
all CTE courses within the participants POS contained math content. Alexis shared,
It was definitely my CTE classes, instead of sitting down at night and studying maybe my
chemistry textbook or my English book, I sat down and looked over my recipes and I
looked over my cooking methods so that when I came into the kitchen that next day I was
prepared for any dish that my chef would give to me and for me to cook.
Connor and Tyler found their drafting classes to be most challenging. While Connor also shared
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As far as electives the most challenging that I had was probably my CAD [drafting]
engineering. . . but as far as core classes my AP Calculus class ironically enough and
dealing with one of the engineering and that was one of my harder classes.
Ethan and Kayla believed calculus was their most challenging course in their POS. While Kiera,
Hannah, and Elizabeth found their health science courses to be challenging because there was so
much material to cover in such a short amount of time. Kiera stated, “My CNA class, which I
took through [dual enrollment] . . . It was a lot to take in, in such a short amount of time.”
Hannah shared, “Health Science II was kind of challenging, because there were so many things
that we had to go over.” While Elizabeth explained,
I would say we had three health classes we had to take and the second course was the
hardest because it focused on the anatomy of the body. And it was hard to learn all of the
names and where everything, you know, everything went. It was kind of, how do I
explain this, there was a lot of curriculum in that one class, and I felt like it needed to be
spread out, because then it would have been easier.
They still believed that the courses were helpful and once they got deeper into the course they
were able to learn and be successful.
Theme two, influences on decision-making provided answers to research question two
which was, what factors influenced the participants’ decision to participate in a Career and
Technical Education Program of Study? Theme two emerged throughout the analysis process
and four distinct sub-themes were identified which were student interest; family; faculty/staff;
and college preparatory graduation requirements. Student interest was the primary reason
participants’ chose to participate in their selected CTE POS. Family and faculty/staff also helped
to influence participants’ participation. Participants reported that CTE teachers were most
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influential in providing support and encouragement to continue in the program after
participating. While college preparatory graduation requirements influenced the participants to
participate in a CTE program in collaboration with a rigorous course of study.
Learning with Understanding Supports Knowledge Use in New Situations
This was the third theme that emerged during the process and provides answers to
research question one, how do high school graduates who participated in a Career and Technical
Education (CTE) Program of Study in North Carolina describe their experiences in high school?;
research question three, how do participants perceive Career and Technical Education’s role in
their secondary education experience?; and research question four, what do participants attribute
to their readiness for entrance to a post-secondary institution and the workforce after graduating
from high school? Past research indicates that students often fail to transfer knowledge and
skills from one context to another (Brown & Dixon, 2012), although this is a major goal in
education (OTEC, n.d.). However, every participant in this study discussed how their learning
experiences in their CTE POS provided them with transferable skills that they were using in
college, the workplace, and in their everyday lives. Three distinct sub-themes were identified
within the main theme which were transfer of knowledge and skills; college and career
preparation; and confidence.
Transfer of knowledge and skills. The participants in this study discussed numerous
benefits gained within their CTE POS including knowledge and skills transferable to other
contexts. Participants reported that they were able to transfer the information learned in their
CTE POS to other problem-solving situations. Alexis stated,
When it came to chemistry . . . significant figures. That was a major role in culinary arts
because every number counts in culinary arts. Especially dealing with food and prices,
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every number counts and that’s what I remember in chemistry. That was like our first
lesson [chemistry] was significant figures. The zeros at the beginning and end don’t
matter, but every single number between one and 10 count and that’s the same thing with
culinary. . . 12 ounces counts, but if you have about 2/10 of an ounce, that is not as
important as those 12 ounces of like a steak or fish or something, that counts.
In his interview, Tyler explained the connection he found between drafting and math stating, “It
[drafting] made you better in math because you’d think quicker.” Connor also participated in
drafting and discussed the connection between math and drafting. According to Connor, “I am
seeing the connection now that I am now actually becoming advanced in CAD, drafting. I am
actually seeing what the purpose for all the math’s that I thought were pointless when I was in
high school.” Later in his interview, Connor discussed how projects should become an added
component to math courses because they allow you to retain the information and problem-solve.
He explained,
Like in math, calculating angles and stuff . . . have them [students] calculate the pitch of a
roof. You know applying, you know actually applying it instead of well what is this like
3x + 7 instead of doing something use something like that everyday application where
they can actually use it instead of trying to recall the information.
Hannah who participated in the health science program of study discussed how health science
courses helped her in many of her science courses. She explained, “It [health science] helped out
a lot too with like my Biology class and stuff like that, it [health science] helped me prepare for
that.” During the focus group session Hannah explained,
Like umm with the CTE courses that I took. I took a lot of the health science courses and
like with my chemistry that I am taking now. It is a health science chemistry for nursing.
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Umm like I didn’t know everything, but I knew some of the things we are talking about
from my health science classes that some people that are in the class with me didn’t
know. I guess I was like a little ahead you know, I mean it has just helped me out
because I can help other people out too.
Elizabeth who also participated in the health science CTE POS explained,
In science we were learning how medicine affects the body. So in biology you go
through and you see all these chemicals, so you are like this chemical will affect the body
this way, because that’s what they taught me in my health science.”
Emily who has a love for science, when discussing the connection between her CTE POS and
science classes she stated,
Like in chemistry, actually we were talking about boiling water one day, and someone
recommended putting salt in it and I was like that is going to make it boil slower and they
were like how? I was like, you see the crystalline structures actually block the water
molecules and slow it from boiling and they were like ‘Oh really’ and I was like ‘yea’
and I had not only learned that from culinary, but from like an actual science perspective.
The participants discussed a variety of skillsets that have helped them beyond the classroom
setting. Alexis, Emily, and Kiera discussed how the culinary program went beyond just cooking,
but has helped them in everyday situations. Alexis explained,
There were so many Mondays where all we did was focus on what we need, how much
we had to spend, and how many courses we could fill with that money and with that food.
I was able to use that in college as well. My mom gives me $25 a week. I have to make
it last every week with $25, whether that’s going to a baseball game, going bowling,
cooking or things of that nature.
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Emily expressed that communication and collaboration learned in her program has proven to be
valuable skills. She described it as,
Participating in it [culinary] gave me skill sets that I probably wouldn’t have had without
the classes. Umm, like I said, communication. When you are working in the kitchen
everyone has to work together, there is constant communication. ‘Did you drop the fries,
is the burger done, did you make the salad?’ you know. It taught me communication
skills and how to work well with people so that is something that I am always going to be
able to use; you are always going to have to be able to communicate.
Emily continued to say, “Just like I have learned in the pharmacy, there is constant
communication, with the nurses, the doctors, when emergency medication is needed, there is
constant communication so that’s a valuable skill.” Later in her interview, Emily shared, “…I do
feel that CTE Programs are necessary, they are going to give you access to skills that you may
not have gained from other things. I feel like you should have to take at least one.” During her
interview, Kiera explained that while she didn’t pursue a career in culinary, she is still able to
apply the skills learned at home. According to Kiera,
I use a lot of that stuff at home. I’ve gotten into that routine even though I’m not in
culinary I still kind of pull out all my stuff like I did in culinary. Like I get everything set
up before I start cooking so everything will come out at the same time. A lot of that stuff
has really stuck with me so I really appreciate that. I learned a lot of different recipes and
stuff.
The participants attributed participating in a course that offered certifications was an added
benefit to their program. Connor, Kiera, and Victoria discussed how the Microsoft program
within their CTE POS has provided them with a transferable skillset that they are able to use in a
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variety of settings. Connor explained, “The excel helps me put the spreadsheets together when I
have to in college and made me a little bit more familiar.” During the focus group he stated, “I
use excel about every day and . . . it kind of helps to know what you are doing with excel.”
During her interview, Kiera explained, “My . . . computer class which helped me a lot with
writing my papers because I ended up having that software and I could help my aunt who was
not so good with umm, with Word.” Also, during the focus group Kiera expressed “The
PowerPoint and the Word really helped me a lot with my classes like just getting it done, like the
assignments that they gave me.” According to Victoria,
With the PowerPoint and Microsoft Word certification I was able to earn better grades on
my presentations and on my papers that I had to write because I had that training in
learning on how to move through the different things on there.
College and career preparation. The participants reported that their CTE POS had
better prepared them for their college and career goals by being further ahead. Connor
explained, “Well as far as when I was in high school and going to college it actually, that course
[drafting] put me a lot, at [college], I am way ahead of most people as far as that.” During her
interview, Kayla stated, “I think it prepared me, for the classes that I was involved with like my
CTE classes prepared me a lot for the classes that I am taking in college now.” Later Kayla
explained, “Having the concentration in health sciences has given me the step ahead of my peers
in college.” Tyler explained,
They [CTE classes] actually helped me in college too. Like, my first semester I had a
drafting class, and it was starting from the basics almost like Drafting I in high school,
and like I was done with my entire class like the fifth week of school.
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During her interview, Hannah discussed that participating in her CTE POS gave her a better
focus when she entered college. Hannah explained,
Like it is so different in college because there are so many different choices you can
have. It is not like you need to take this or you need to take this or that. Umm, like for
nursing, you have to have so many classes before you can even apply for the program,
and like so you have to pretty much get on track with what you are doing. So it helped
me with the health science classes.
Elizabeth stated,
I took my CNA class and some things I didn’t have to learn, because I had already
learned them in health science. It was just, it was like oh ok, my high school this
prepared me to go into college, prepared for some of the classes that I was going to take.
It prepared me so I didn’t have to learn all this new information. I had a base to build
upon.
Alexis described it as,
I am well-rounded. I can go to a restaurant and could cook with the top chefs. I can
balance my budget so much better and I’m able just to, when it comes down to studying
those math and science courses I am able to tutor someone and study that way as well or
I’m able to teach this one student something. I’m higher up on the totem pole than a
person that didn’t graduate from the CTE program.
Participants in this study shared that gaining college credits during high school within their CTE
POS has been beneficial to them in college. According to Connor, “Well I didn’t have to take, as
far as my college goals, it helped me exempt out of a couple of classes, which made my degree a
little bit easier. I didn’t have to take so many credit hours.” Later in his interview he shared,
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“Career and Technical gets you ready for college that is how I felt it was getting me ready for the
CAD program in college.” During the focus group, Alexis, Kiera, and Hannah discussed how
participating in dual enrollment has allowed them to transfer college credits to their college
program. Kiera explained,
I took a lot of the dual enrollment classes that transferred over. So I didn’t have to take
as many classes, so I was ahead of a lot of the other students that were in my field.
Umm, that is basically a whole semester of courses that I didn’t have to take just by
taking four or five classes while I was in high school.
Alexis stated,
Taking those classes helped me to get used to the college material without actually being
in the college setting. I was able to learn how to study on my own and things of that
nature . . . it put me ahead of my other classmates. I didn’t realize that coming in taking
at least 20 credits in high school would put me ahead of other students, but it really
helped.
Hannah discussed how completing the nursing assistant course and earning the CNA certification
had helped her gain employment and prepare for enrollment in the nursing program. Hannah
shared,
I did the dual enrollment with the CNA class and like I have a job now and. . . they say
they look at that when you are trying to apply and get into the nursing program. It may
help you out, that you have had some experience with patients and things like that.
During the focus group participants discussed the advantages of completing a CTE POS during
high school. Alexis explained, “Being ahead opened up a good job for me when I was in school.
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I was able to tutor people in chemistry and all that stuff, because of the CTE classes and the dual
enrollment classes that I took.” Connor expressed,
I definitely felt like I had an advantage you know taking the CTE program, taking CAD.
I would say that I was a lot further advanced than people in basic drafting when I went in.
It’s been very beneficial in the CAD area, my field.
According to Kayla, “There was a lot of classes that I didn’t have to take due to being exposed to
that in high school . . .it gave me an upper hand and you know having a higher level. I was
prepared for college classes a little bit more than my peers.” With excitement Kiera stated, “I
felt more prepared and I got excited from it, that I could help others.”
Participants reported that the opportunities provided within their CTE POS including
course work and credentials had increased their opportunities for future employment. Emily
stated, “The CTE programs definitely provided me with quite a few skills, and allowed me to
take the WorkKeys and it opened my mind to things I did and did not want in life.” During his
interview Tyler who participated in multiple CTE POSs explained,
Well my agriculture will help me with my heavy equipment business, because knowing
about tractors. . .my drafting kind of goes in with my civil engineering I can do like land
surveying and all that so I mean. My welding class, you know if something breaks I
won’t have to hire someone to do it, I can do it myself.
Later Tyler discussed,
Just like my civil engineering, once I start doing my surveying classes, and I am in the
woods, in my agriculture class I learned all kinds of trees and plants and all that. It is not
like I am going out there completely lost. I know some of what I am doing.
During the focus group when discussing credentials, Kayla shared,
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I earned . . . the WorkKeys credential . . . it has been beneficial to my real life . . . material.
Also, something I was am able to put on my resume . . . it is very beneficial because it
stands out . . . when you know people see that I have that knowledge, compared to other
resumes a lot of people don’t have that so it definitely stands out and is very beneficial.
Connor explained,
I believe I would be more prepared than others who didn’t take you know the CTE program
. . . the welding class I took . . . . That has actually helped me out a lot in the last few weeks,
actually learning how to weld. So I guess I would be more prepared in the workforce
coming straight out of high school.
Also, during the focus group session, participants reported that the credentialing tests
offered through their CTE POS was important in better understanding the expectations of a career
and gaining employment. Connor stated, “I think like my test like CAD is more applicable later
in my career as far as with my degrees and stuff.” Alexis stated, “I think the WorkKeys was very
good at preparing me for real life umm circumstances and situations. I was able to apply that to
college as well when I got there.” According to Hannah,
Well the WorkKeys . . . it broadened my thinking. And then like with the CNA umm, it
showed me how people make money and like you know when I graduate from college that
is what I want to do make more money. Umm, it showed me that I think I am ready to be
a nurse and that is what I want to do, because like being able to help people and to work
with people.
Kiera explained,
I think they are extremely important because if you think about if people take those
credentialing test, they are getting things that can possibly happen, like scenarios that can
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possibly happen and they are solving them based on how that can affect them in their
career goals. Like the CNA test for example, it was all about how if you have a patient
and you have to do xyz how do you solve this problem.
During the time of this study Hannah had gained employment since graduating high school
utilizing her CNA industry-recognized credential earned through her CTE POS and Connor was
in the process of gaining employment with his Career Readiness credential from the WorkKeys
Assessment.
Confidence. Participants’ reported that having confidence in their abilities from past
successes in their CTE POS, helped in increasing their learning. According to Syverson (2014),
“We see growth and development when learners’ confidence and independence become congruent
with their actual abilities and skills, content knowledge, use of experience, and reflectiveness about
their own learning” (Para 2). Part of the learning process and being able to transfer what is learned,
is learning from your mistakes as well as your successes. As participants acquired new knowledge
and skills through their CTE POS participation, these experiences allowed them to learn more
about themselves and their abilities that they can transfer to new environments. Emily shared,
I guess it [CTE] actually gave me confidence because umm, at first when I was in the
class I would always go double check with [Mr. CTE Teacher] before I even added
something to a soup. Then over time, I was like I know this, why am I scared to just go
on and do this. I know this is what I am supposed to be doing and I feel like it helped me
gain confidence in my skills.
Emily continued,
I’ll do that now, I will be trying to stock and I will look at my paper and I’ll be like ok I
need this medication and I will go to the shelf, and then I will be like no that’s not it and I
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will check again and again. Then I am like, you know that is it just go on and grab it. So
it helped me form confidence in things I’m doing, even if it’s just little things it’s like you
know reiterating that you do have the ability to do what you are doing.
Four of the participants expressed that they were able to open up more and become more social
by working in teams and completing projects. Kiera discussed during her interview that she was
able to open up more by participating in her CTE POS stating, “They [CTE teachers] helped me
personally realize that I could be more balanced, more patient, that I can reach those areas.”
During the focus group Kiera shared,
I took culinary so I was forced to talk to people a lot. . . So it kind of made me more open
to get to know other people and get to network with a lot of people. So when I went to
college I met a lot of people.
According to Hannah, “We got to work in groups so it wasn’t always by yourself working and I
liked that.” With a laugh Hannah explained, “I learned how to be a team member from working
in the groups.” During the focus group, Hannah stated, “That helped me out a lot too talking,
because I am real shy. I umm, I learned how to communicate better, which is a big thing in
college.” Alexis described it as,
This [CTE] program helped you work better as a team, with collaboration, you gained
self-pride and confidence. If you put out a great dish of food and then the people come
back and say ‘hey that was really good’. For the rest of the day you walk around with
your head held high and say I just fed a group of people and they liked it.
Connor shared,
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At the end after you’ve been working on it and you see your finished product. I was
pretty happy with mine. So it was kind of satisfying. It looked pretty good and you
know that you made that and you put a little bit of effort into it.
Participants reported having more confidence entering college by participating in their
CTE POS. Kayla believed that confidence helped her when entering the medical program in
college. She stated, “If I didn’t participate in CTE in high school . . . I really wouldn’t have
known what I was getting myself into umm in college.” Ethan explained,
The fact that I had like the exposure in the accounting courses, in the principles of
business and finance course and entrepreneurship course it kind of gave me confidence in
knowing that I knew a little bit about this before I went into another class and that just
helped me excel in that class and helped me stay motivated to continue on the path in
doing something in business and something in finance.
Alexis said,
Now in college if I wouldn’t have taken my CTE classes, I would find myself
questioning, what I do, and how to study and things of that nature a lot. So with taking
those classes, I am able to trust myself a little bit more because I have already done the
hard part, and now it is time to do the easy part and that is college.
When discussing with Elizabeth about her feelings about being successful in one of her more
challenging CTE courses, she explained,
I was excited and I had learned a lot so I took that with me through, like even through
now through college as I am going through Biology and stuff I get to say, I know this
from this class and I get to bring it along instead of saying well I never learned any of this
in high school.
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Connor and Hannah believed that the increased learning within their CTE POS, provided
them with confidence entering into the workforce. During the focus group Connor explained,
“Mainly like the CTE Program made me more confident. As far as the CAD program and the
WorkKeys you know I feel a little bit more confident going into the job market.” Hannah who
was employed at two locations as a CNA, in addition to being enrolled in the Pre-nursing
program in college explained, “Because I kind of got a glimpse of what I am going to be doing . .
. It [CTE] has shown me like what I can and cannot handle.”
Learning that supports knowledge use in new situations was the third theme that emerged
in the research process. Theme three provides answers to research question one, how do high
school graduates who participated in a Career and Technical Education (CTE) Program of Study
in North Carolina describe their experiences in high school?; research question three, how do
participants perceive Career and Technical Education’s role in their secondary education
experience?; and research question four, what do participants attribute to their readiness for
entrance to a post-secondary institution and the workforce after graduating from high school?
Three distinct sub-themes were identified within the main theme which were transfer of
knowledge and skills; college and career preparation; and confidence.
Participants reported that they have been able to use the knowledge and skills gained in
their CTE program of study in their post-secondary studies, their life, and their work. The level
of course work present in their program of study provided them with foundational knowledge
that placed them a step ahead of their peers in college. Additionally, the credentials earned had
provided career opportunities post-graduation. Past successes with projects and hands-on
learning found in their selected CTE program of study increased participants learning and helped
them to gain confidence in their abilities.
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Guidance and Advisement Needs to be Purposeful
This was the fourth theme that emerged during this process and provides answers for
research questions one, how do high school graduates who participated in a Career and Technical
Education (CTE) Program of Study in North Carolina describe their experiences in high school?;
and three, how do participants perceive Career and Technical Education’s role in their secondary
education experience? Past research shows that effective guidance and advisement can be
crucial in assisting students with their future goals (McComb-Beverage, 2012), while also
showing that career development opportunities are important to a child’s overall development
(Gutek, 2011; Lewis et al., 2008). Participants’ reported that CTE Programs are an important
part of the secondary education experience and can provide benefits for a variety of learners.
However, in this study aside from participating in the program itself, the individual interviews
and focus group revealed that there was little guidance and advisement regarding CTE programs
and getting prepared for your future career goals.
Benefits for all learners. When discussing CTE programs in secondary education,
participants believed that CTE programs were important for all learners. During his interview
Connor explained,
I think it [CTE] is geared to serve the students to become more competitive in the job
market. That is probably the biggest thing now you know. Almost every person you ask
what is their motivation behind getting a degree, it’s a job and the CTE Program helps.
Tyler explained that CTE offers you something different to your everyday high school schedule
and increases your work ethic. Tyler stated “Someone who wants to have more of a challenge
than you know just everyday regular classes.” Later he shared, “I think it [CTE] makes your
work ethic a lot better. I wouldn’t say that you would be like different from other students, but
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your drive to do work would.” Ethan, Hannah, and Kayla believed the program benefits those
who have an idea of what they want to do in their future. Ethan shared, “Those people that have
a pretty good idea about what they want to do long-term.” Hannah explained, “The people who
take it [CTE], it benefits you for your future plans.” During her interview, Kayla expressed,
Just students that are you know serious about their work, serious about going to college.
They already have a game plan of what they want to do…with their future. So I think it
[CTE] is for those students who just want to go to college and continue on with their
education.
Four of the participants believed CTE programs are beneficial to everyone. Victoria expressed,
“Everyone, umm and I say everyone because everyone wants to do something in life well they
should. I would say CTE is designed for mostly any career.” Alexis explained, “CTE courses
are designed for anyone, from the top of the tree to the bottom of the barrel. Anyone should take
CTE classes.” Emily described it as, “I feel like it [CTE] is for everyone and I don’t feel as if it
caters to a specific group of people or a certain population of people; if you go to [high school]
then it is there for you.” During her interview Elizabeth shared,
CTE is for everybody. If you try hard enough you can do it. As me and the other girls
we had the chance to do the internships, but you have to work hard. It is not just
something that is given to you.
The need for effective communication and advisement regarding programs. During
the interviews with the participants it became clear that communication and advisement
regarding CTE programs needed to be more effective. Past research indicates that effective
communication is critical to an effective CTE POS (Shumer et al., 2012), however a one-to-one
approach is most effective in delivering information to students (Gene, 2010). In this study, all
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participants participated in a CTE POS and completed a CTE concentration, however there was
little communication and advisement regarding programs prior to enrollment.
Participants’ reported that information regarding CTE programs needs to be increased.
Hannah explained, “I think it [CTE] needs to be more like, more known.” Ethan, Emily, and
Victoria believed that CTE programs are not advertised enough throughout the school. During
his interview Ethan pointed out, “Prior to high school there really wasn’t much guidance, umm I
just kind of went in blind” and later explained, “I honestly didn’t know that the CTE program
like they had a concentration or something like that until my senior year. So it’s not advertised
enough or it is not pushed upon the students enough by the faculty.” Emily stated, “You have no
guidance as to those programs. You don’t have a knowledge of it.” Later in her interview Emily
shared, “There is slight encouragement as to taking those classes, but not that much. I feel like
that they need to be advertised a little more.” Victoria stated,
It’s not umm advertised enough . . . of course the CTE teachers are going to talk about it,
but throughout the school and the counselors and while you’re registering for your
classes they are not really saying oh you took this class so you need to continue taking
this class if you’re interested in it, they don’t really discuss it.
During her interview Kayla shared, “My CTE teachers helped more in that field of advisement.”
Participants’ reported that communicating the benefits of the program could encourage
other students to participate. Hannah stated, “I think they [students] should know more about the
program. They should know that it can help towards college and help you decide what you want
to do.” During her interview Emily explained, “I think if people’s eyes were open to the skillset
that they could gain from doing things like this, then maybe they would participate a little more
so.” Elizabeth shared,
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It [CTE] is a great program that needs more people to be in it and be able to go out and
experience the outside world to see if they want to do this particular program or you
know go to college and graduate in this. I believe it [CTE] could help with having more
college graduates because they would be more motivated to go to college and finish with
a degree.
Alexis suggested,
If we get those seventh and eighth graders coming from the middle schools to actually
see hey you can take this program in high school and it will lead you to a definite job in
college or something like that. Or even if you just take these programs and it gives you
so many life skills. The budgeting, the use of technology to help you study instead of just
sitting down and staring at a book all day.
Participants reported that sharing their experiences with others was a great way to communicate
regarding program. Ethan shared that providing information to parents by way of progress
reports and report cards regarding CTE programs could be helpful with effective communication.
Consequences of not having a high school plan. This study found that participants did
not enter into high school with a career development plan in place that provided a sequence of
courses for each grade level during high school to include their CTE concentration area linked to
their college and career goals. An analysis of transcripts found that seven of the participants did
not begin their CTE POS until their sophomore year in high school. When I asked participants
what they would have done differently during high school, five of the participants reported that
they would have spent more time invested in their coursework especially during their freshman
year when they transitioned to high school and taken more CTE courses. With a laugh Emily
expressed, “I definitely wouldn’t have goofed off my 9th grade year, still trying to transition.
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Now I realize that is probably why my GPA, well it wasn’t really low, but low for what I know I
could have done.” Later Emily expressed,
I would have taken more health science classes. At the beginning of high school, I didn’t
know that was the career field that I was going to be in. I didn’t see myself as being in
the health care field, but now I know that is something that I truly want to do.
Victoria shared,
I would study more because I really could have come out with all A’s really if I would
have pushed myself, but I slacked off. I just got by and said a B is good. So if I would
have pushed myself like I suppose to, I could of had all A’s and my GPA would have
stayed 4.0, but other than that I think I did pretty good.
During his interview Tyler stated, “Not slacked off so much my first two years. Got better
grades, which I didn’t do bad, but I could have done a whole lot better my 9th and 10th grade
years, like in my academic classes.” Later he explained, “Maybe taken more CTE classes if I
would have started earlier.” Ethan explained,
Freshman year, took things a little bit more seriously academically. I mean I feel like I
did pretty well freshman year, but I wasn’t as focused as I could’ve been and that’s just
because I just didn’t know how to balance things as far as athletics, academics, social life,
life outside of school. Just trying to balance things was tough, but I definitely could have
like spent more time focusing on academics and doing a little better.
Ethan continued,
Also, taken like more CTE classes earlier on so I could have like throughout my whole
high school experience taken more. Like I said, senior year I wanted to take more, but I
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had to take the AP classes that I wanted to take and I just didn’t have room in my
schedule.
Connor shared,
Academically, I would have, there were sometimes, I wish I would have paid more
attention. Because like in my advanced math classes, like calculus I am seeing where
there are couple of things I remember, but I wasn’t really focused and now I am trying to
remember, well I remember seeing this, but I don’t remember how to do it.
Participants believed that understanding more about college requirements was important, but not
fully understood early in their high school career. Victoria explained, “I would have taken AP
courses instead of all honors, but I was like no I’m not taking AP and I would have did dual
enrollment with [community college].” Kiera stated,
I would have taken more Career and College Promise (CCP) classes, the dual enrollment
classes . . . . Like my last semester in my senior year was really laid back. Like I only
had two classes on campus. I would have definitely taken another college class that
semester and possibly one that summer just so I could have knocked out more classes
when I got to college.
During her interview Kayla shared,
I probably would have looked more into . . . what school I wanted to go to, like I always
knew I wanted to go to college, but I didn’t really . . . focus on what school I wanted to
attend until it was like too late . . . because the only thing I regret is like not knowing, like
when I graduated I still didn’t know what school I was going to go to.
Participants discussed the importance of your GPA in high school on enrollment in
college and earning scholarships, but did not fully understand the importance until their senior
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year of high school. Emily stated, “I guess coming into high school I didn’t realize how
important your GPA would actually be. At first you think it is just a number, but by the time you
reach your 12th grade year you realize that number really does matter.” Later in her interview
Emily shared, “I don’t feel like they start encouraging you to think about that until your senior
year.” Hannah shared,
My SAT got me into college, I mean I got in with my GPA too, but the SAT helped me
because and plus with a lot of scholarships you have to have 3.0 so that was hard for me
to apply for scholarships when that time came.”
During his interview, Tyler discussed that slacking off during high school and just getting by
does not help towards your future. He explained, “Especially when it comes to scholarships and
you know your GPA trying to get into a four-year school. Just getting by doesn’t do anything.”
Later in his interview, Tyler advised incoming freshmen, “Don’t skip school. Do your
homework. Do your classwork. Cheating doesn’t do anything, but give you a grade in the
gradebook, it doesn’t teach you anything so you might as well just do it.” Victoria echoed the
same sentiments in her interview regarding advice to incoming freshmen sharing, “Do
everything you can, do not slack off. Take advantage of every course that is given to you like
dual enrollment, take the CTE classes, do your best, study all of that.”
Theme four, guidance and advisement needs to be purposeful provided answers to
research question one, how do high school graduates who participated in a CTE POS in North
Carolina describe their experiences in high school?; and research question three, how do
participants perceive CTE’s role in their secondary education experience? Three distinct sub-
themes were identified from the main theme which were, benefits for all learners; the need for
effective communication and guidance regarding programs; and consequences of not having a
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high school plan. Participants reported that they believed that CTE programs were an important
part of their secondary education experience and provides opportunities for all types of learners.
They believed that there is a need for an effective communication system regarding programs
which could increase enrollment allowing more students to take advantage of what CTE
programs have to offer. There was little guidance provided to students, therefore, participants
reported that guidance and advisement needs to be increased to help students to enroll in the
appropriate course of study. All participants transitioned to high school lacking a high school
plan. As a result, there was a decrease in some of the opportunities that were available in high
school such as taking additional CTE and dual enrollment courses. Never the less, all
participants graduated as a CTE completer, earned an industry-recognized credential, and
completed a rigorous course of study that included an articulated and/or a dual enrollment
course.
Research Question Results
The research questions were answered through one or more of the four themes that
emerged in this study. The four themes were (a) the learning process was enhanced, (b)
influences on decision-making, (c) learning with understanding supports knowledge use in new
situations, and (d) guidance and advisement needs to be purposeful. The following research
questions were explored:
Research Question 1: How do high school graduates who participated in a Career and
Technical Education (CTE) Program of Study in North Carolina describe their experiences in
high school?
Research Question 2: What factors influenced the participants’ decision to participate in
a Career and Technical Education Program of Study?
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Research Question 3: How do participants perceive Career and Technical Education’s
role in their secondary education experience?
Research Question 4: What do participants attribute to their readiness for entrance to a
post-secondary institution and the workforce after graduating from high school?
Research question one explored the experiences of high school graduates who
participated in a CTE POS. This question was answered through three of the four themes that
emerged from this study which were theme one, the learning process was enhanced; theme three,
learning with understanding supports knowledge use in new situations; and theme four guidance
and advisement needs to be purposeful. The participants’ experiences in a CTE POS evolved
through an enhanced learning process and transfer of learning into other contexts throughout
their lives. Participants had the opportunity to participate in hands-on learning, career
exploration, and work-based learning opportunities that increased their confidence, engagement
and motivation to learn. Having the opportunity to engage in hands-on, project-based learning
increased their enjoyment in learning. The exposure beyond the regular classroom setting
provided participants with increased opportunities during and after high school. Relationships
were also strengthened within their CTE POS. Although these participants had success in
participating in a CTE POS, there was a need for increased guidance and advisement in high
school that would have extended opportunities for the participants.
Research question two examined the influences on participation in a CTE POS. Theme
two, influences on decision-making provided the answer to this question. Participants’ decision
to participate in a CTE POS was primarily guided by their interest. Their interest not only in a
particular career path, but in an academic course such as math or science encouraged their
participation in their selected CTE POS. Participants’ also shared that their family along with
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faculty and staff members encouraged their participation in a CTE POS. Having the opportunity
to self-select elective courses, participants were able to add to their course of study courses that
were focused around their interest or as exploration into the real-world throughout their high
school career.
Research question three sought to gain an understanding of the participants’ perception of
CTE Programs in secondary education. This question was answered by three themes which were
theme one, the learning process was enhanced; theme three, learning with understanding
supports knowledge use in new situations; and theme four, guidance and advisement needs to be
purposeful. Participants shared the belief that CTE Programs were an important part of their
secondary education experience that provided them with a well-rounded education that better
prepared them for their future goals. Participants believed that CTE Programs provide students
with an opportunity to get a glimpse into their future career allowing them to making better
informed decisions throughout high school and post-graduation. Additionally, they believed that
all learners could benefit from participation in CTE programs. They also believed that all
students should participate in CTE to take advantage of the opportunities, but there is a need for
increased communication and advisement regarding programs.
Research question four asked about the attributing factors to the participants’ readiness
for college and a career after graduating from high school. This question was answered by two
themes which were theme one, the learning process was enhanced; and theme three, learning
with understanding supports knowledge use in new situations. Participants shared the belief that
their participation in a CTE POS had increased their readiness for not only college, but their
future career. The real-world exposure and hands-on learning increased participants’ knowledge
and skills as well as the assurance that they can be successful. Participants believed had they not
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participated in their CTE POS they would have been less prepared for college because their CTE
POS exposed them to college level material, while also providing insight into various careers.
Participants reported being a step ahead of their peers because of the knowledge and skills that
they acquired in their CTE POS, reporting the skills and knowledge gained are applicable at
home, work and in college.
Summary
This chapter described the lived experiences of 10 high school graduates who participated
in a CTE POS. The in-depth individual interviews, focus group, and analysis of documents were
utilized to identify the experiences of the participants. Through a thorough analysis of the data,
four themes emerged. The themes were (a) the learning process was enhanced, (b) influences on
decision-making, (c) learning with understanding supports knowledge use in new situations, and
(d) guidance and advisement needs to be purposeful.
This study revealed that participation in a CTE POS during high school had a positive
impact on participants during and after high school. Participants were engaged in their learning
within their CTE POS and found enjoyment in learning. The hands-on approach to learning as
well as problem-solving that was found within their POS had increased their ability to perform in
other areas of their life. Participants believed that they gained confidence through hands-on
instruction and project-based learning as well as their experiences through work-based learning
and credentialing, which has supported their post-graduation transition. Participants shared the
belief that CTE Programs were an important part of their secondary education experience and
provided benefits to all learners. Participation in a CTE POS was primarily influenced by
student interest, family members, and CTE staff.
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This study also revealed that guidance and advisement regarding program participation
for most participants did not occur until after enrollment. Additionally, prior to high school there
was little guidance and advisement from school personnel regarding course selections. As a
result, participants did not have a plan when entering high school, which for many delayed or
minimalized their participation in course offerings available through their CTE POS. In spite of
this, all participants had graduated as a CTE completer and were currently enrolled in a post-
secondary institution in which seven of the participants were majoring in a program similar to
their CTE POS.
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CHAPTER FIVE: DISCUSSION, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Overview
During the late 19th century, the vocational age emerged. Rousseau and Pestalozzi
advocated for schools to include learning that involved manual labor that is most commonly
associated with vocational education programs (as cited in Gutek, 2011). As the vocational age
began to evolve, the term career education was introduced during 1971 as part of the growing
need to reform secondary education (Barlow, 1976). Some 35 years later, the reauthorization of
the Carl D. Perkins Act of 2006, ensures that Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs
offer at least one program of study (POS) that includes a mixture of secondary and post-
secondary education aligned to the national career clusters to better prepare students for the
increasing demands of the 21st century workplace (CORD and NASDCTEc, 2012; Lewis et al.,
2012).
The purpose of this phenomenological study was to describe the experiences of graduates
who participated in a CTE POS during high school in order to gain a greater understanding.
There were four research questions that guided this study. This chapter presents a summary of
the key findings followed by a discussion of the findings related to the literature and the
theoretical framework as well as the implications of the findings. Finally, the limitations to this
study and recommendations for future research will be discussed.
Summary of Findings
A phenomenological approach was used to examine the individual experiences of
graduates who participated in a CTE POS during high school. Research suggests that
participation in CTE programs provide students with increased opportunities post-graduation
(Castellano et al., 2014). Since CTE POS are relatively new, there were few studies that had
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examined the experiences of POS participants (Alfeid & Bhattacharya, 2013; Bachofer et al.,
2014; Castellano et al., 2014). This study sought to share the voices of 10 high school graduates
who participated in a CTE POS during high school by focusing on the wholeness and essence of
the experiences and shared phenomenon.
Following Van Manen’s (1990) recommendations for conducting a hermeneutical
phenomenological study, data was collected through individual interviews, a focus group, and
document analysis. Four essential research questions guided this study to understand the
experiences of 10 CTE POS participants. The research questions are as follows:
Research Question 1: How do high school graduates who participated in a Career and
Technical Education (CTE) Program of Study in North Carolina describe their experiences in
high school?
Research Question 2: What factors influenced the participants’ decision to participate in a
Career and Technical Education Program of Study?
Research Question 3: How do participants perceive Career and Technical Education’s
role in their secondary education experience?
Research Question 4: What do participants attribute to their readiness for entrance to a
post-secondary institution and the workforce after graduating from high school?
From the participants’ words, four themes emerged. They were (a) the learning process
was enhanced, (b) influences on decision-making, (c) learning with understanding supports
knowledge use in new situations, and (d) guidance and advisement needs to be purposeful. One
or more of the four identified themes answered each of the research questions.
The themes suggest the following:
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(1) The participants believed that their learning was enhanced because they were actively
engaged in their learning, had the opportunity to explore and relate the content to the real-world,
they developed stronger relationships that motivated learning, and were able to share with others
through peer teaching what they had learned.
(2) Factors that influenced the participant’s decision to participate in a CTE POS was
primarily dependent upon student interest, family influence, faculty and staff support, and the
requirements necessary for graduation while getting a jump start on their future college and
career goals.
(3) Participants believed that CTE programs were an important part of their secondary
education experience and through the hands-on approach to learning they gained confidence in
their abilities which increased their retention of information that allowed them to transfer their
learning to a variety of settings beyond the classroom.
(4) After participating in a CTE POS, participants shared that communication was an
important component to understanding CTE programs, yet the guidance and advisement received
regarding their POS outside of CTE was minimal.
Research Question One Findings
Research question one asked participants who participated in a CTE POS during high
school to describe their experiences. Themes one, three, and four answered this research
question which were; theme one, the learning process was enhanced; theme three, learning with
understanding supports knowledge use in new situations; and theme four, guidance and
advisement needs to be purposeful. The participants of this study spoke positively regarding
their experiences of participating in a CTE POS providing them with a holistic educational
experience. Participants found new ways of learning that increased their ability to become life-
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long learners and could provide specific details as to the learning accounts during their
participation. The development of relationships increased their desire and ability to learn.
Participants believed that their CTE POS gave them something to look forward to while in high
school and kept them actively engaged. Guidance and advisement regarding programs affected
their overall experience by not fully understanding the program prior to enrollment.
Additionally, coming into high school without a plan limited some of the additional opportunities
that could have been gained early on in their high school career. In spite of this, participants
gained essential skills that they have transferred to other context of their lives including home,
college and work that they believed would not have been gained had they not participated in their
CTE POS.
Research Question Two Findings
Research question two was concerned with understanding what influenced the
participants’ decision to participate in a CTE POS. Theme two answered this question which
was; influences on decision-making. Participant interest and family was a driving factor for
participating in their CTE POS. Once enrolled in the program, CTE teachers provided most of
the guidance and advisement within the program. Participants reported that they enjoyed the
teachers who taught the courses and they encouraged them to continue in that pathway. This
study found that the North Carolina graduation requirements were understood by the participants
as a means for selecting academic courses and what was needed to graduate from high school.
Advanced courses, dual enrollment, and CTE courses were chosen by the participants to become
better prepared for college. Participants also chose CTE courses based on their career interest
and to learn more about that career field.
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Research Question Three Findings
Research question three explored the perception of the participants of CTE’s role in their
secondary education experience. Themes one, three, and four answered this research question
which were; theme one, the learning process was enhanced; theme three, learning with
understanding supports knowledge use in new situations; and theme four, guidance and
advisement needs to be purposeful. Participants collectively shared the belief that the CTE
program was an important part of their education experience and were positively impacted by
participating. They also shared that CTE programs provide students with a wide range of career
possibilities to better prepare students for college and careers. Participants reported that their
CTE POS gave them a well-rounded educational experience providing them with knowledge and
skills that they have been able to transfer to a variety of settings. This study revealed that
participants looked forward to their CTE classes during high school because they found interest
and enjoyment in what they were learning which helped them with the retention of the material.
The knowledge gained in CTE courses added to their understanding in academic courses as well.
The participants believed that CTE benefits all learners and should be more known among the
student body because of the benefits afforded to students.
Research Question Four Findings
Research question four asked participants what do they attribute to their readiness for
entrance to a post-secondary institution and the workforce after graduating from high school.
Themes one and three provided answers to this research question which were; theme one, the
learning process was enhanced; and theme three, learning with understanding supports
knowledge use in new situations. Participants believed that they were provided with increased
opportunities that better prepared them for college. Participants felt that they would have been
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less prepared for their college courses had they not participated in their CTE POS during high
school reporting that their CTE POS exposed them to the college level material. The opportunity
to complete college coursework during high school gave them an upper hand in their college
major and participants shared the belief that they were a step ahead of their peers. Participants
also shared that being exposed to the material expounded on their ability to transfer skills to
other contexts. The real-world exposure and work-based learning opportunities present in their
CTE POS had expanded their knowledge and provided them with insight into their future career
allowing them to make informed decisions regarding their college major and career choice.
Additionally, the credentials earned in their CTE POS provided workplace readiness skills
adding to their career portfolio.
Discussion
The following is a discussion of the findings of this study in relationship to the empirical
and theoretical literature review. The literature review included information on CTE programs
as well as other educational programs and career development. Literature was also reviewed
regarding factors that influence CTE programs and the impact of CTE programs in secondary
education. This study was guided by three influential theories relative to the intensive nature
found in a CTE POS: The constructivist theory, the experiential learning theory, and the career
theory.
Developing in students a desire for life-long learning is a primary goal of the educational
system. Understanding different approaches to how an individual learns can help to increase the
learning process. The outcome should not only consist of academic achievement, but the ability
to transfer learning that supports the continuation of learning beyond the classroom (Levin,
2011). The findings of this study support the theories used that framed this study.
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Implications of the Theoretical Framework
The constructivist theory, introduced by John Dewey (1897) is based on the premise that
prior knowledge helps to develop student experiences. Students have a natural curiosity
regarding the world in which they live and when they are interested they are more willing to
explore (Gutek, 2011). The results have shown that participants in this study were interested in
their CTE POS concentration which enhanced their learning process. Participants shared how
their interest influenced their decision to participate in a CTE POS and with the hands-on
approach to learning their engagement in school was increased. The increased opportunities to
experiment with real-world applications that were present in their POS, allowed participants to
construct meaning from the content, engage in authentic experiences, and develop social
connections with others to better understand the content (Cooperstein & Kocevar-Weidinger,
2003). Participants reported that while challenging, participating in problem-solving projects
helped them gain a greater understanding of the material. As a result, participants were able to
transfer their learning to a variety of contexts.
Building upon the constructivist theory, the experiential learning theory suggests that
students will learn from doing. Through a contextualized learning approach that was present
through their CTE POS, participants were able to make connections between core content
through hands-on activities, projects, and work-based learning experiences (Brand, Browning, &
Valent, 2013; Holzer et al., 2013). The individual learning styles are an important aspect of the
experiential learning theory. Past research indicates that our learning styles can become
relatively unconscious (Kolb & Yeganeh, 2009). In this study, participants shared their learning
preference indicating that the activities that they were engaged in within their CTE POS provided
real-world scenarios and events that allowed them to understand and process information through
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application. This mindfulness approach to learning allowed participants to gain a greater
understanding which in turn helped them make better in-depth decisions throughout school and
“put the control of learning back in the learner’s hands” (Kolb & Yeganeh, 2009, p. 15). This
conceptual framework of understanding attributed to the transfer of learning of their knowledge
and skills.
The career theory suggest that an individual’s career process is developed over time
(Lewis et al., 2008). Since this process evolves, the roles of others played throughout an
individual’s life can impact their career focus (Salomone, 1996). As shown in the results, the
participants understanding of a career began with various roles of others in their life including
family that continued to be shaped through their participation in their CTE POS. Consistent with
McComb-Beverage (2012) findings, nearly all participants identified with a career interest
during their early adolescent stage. The exposure to a variety of career options and fields present
within their POS, provided participants with opportunities to explore and identify with a
compatible career option for the future (Lewis et al., 2008; Nevill, 1997).
This study found that there were little career development opportunities provided for
students aside from enrollment in CTE programs. Research suggest that when individuals fail to
engage in career development during adolescence, transitioning into a career can be difficult
(Ochs & Roessler, 2004). However, participants shared that participating in their selected POS
was relative to their future career choice allowing them to gain confidence in their ability to
perform a variety of tasks increasing their knowledge and skills that are required when entering
the 21st century workplace.
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Implications of the Literature
During the 20th century, concentrated efforts in preparing students for entrance to a four-
year college left little time for students to participate in programs that provided vocational skills.
CTE programs have evolved over the last century, most recently with the implementation of
programs of study. The literature suggest that a successful CTE program prepares students for a
wide range of career options through a rigorous course structure, career exploration, project-
based learning, and opportunities for work-based learning (Partnership for 21st Century Skills,
2010). While there were numerous quantitative studies on the impact of CTE programs in
secondary education there was a lack of literature on student experiences in CTE POS.
The rigorous nature of CTE POS provide students with increased opportunities to engage
in learning through real-world exposure that helps to develop essential 21st century skills better
preparing them for post-secondary opportunities (Castellano et al., 2014; Lekes et al., 2007).
When examining the perceptions of CTE participants, past research indicated that CTE
coursework better prepared students allowing them to be further ahead of their peers (Bachofer et
al., 2014), while also gaining confidence and improving their self-esteem (Allen, 2010).
Participants in this study had the opportunity to participant in career exploration and real-world
learning experiences through their POS that allowed them to explore various career paths. In
doing so, participants reported that they gained knowledge and skills that they have been able to
transfer to their post-secondary studies and the workplace. Participants shared that the exposure
provided within their CTE POS gave them confidence in their abilities and believed that they
were more advanced in their area of concentration in college than their peers.
Understanding academic concepts can often present challenges for students (CORD, n.d.)
inhibiting their ability to transfer content from one context to another (Brown & Dixon, 2012).
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With the reauthorization of Carl D. Perkins, career and technical education programs are to link
core academic content with technical studies. Research suggest that lower level CTE courses did
not present as much rigor as upper level courses when compared to core classes (Flournoy et al.,
2010). Participants in this study believed that their CTE courses were as challenging as core
classes, but were enjoyable because they found interest in the content. In most cases, an interest
in a particular subject matter such as math and science sparked the participants’ interest in their
CTE POS. Additionally, participants shared that the content taught in CTE courses provided
support in learning academic content. Participants reported that principles learned in their CTE
POS were more relative to their college course of study and was helpful in providing a
foundation to build upon when entering college.
Past research showed that the lack of career development programs could pose challenges
for students when transitioning to high school in making informed career choices (Breakthrough
Collaborative, 2011; McComb-Beverage, 2012). This study did somewhat differ from past
research. The results of this study found that participants did experience challenges when
transitioning to high school by not having a high school plan. However, the lack of being
exposed to career development opportunities did not prevent them from enrolling in a CTE POS,
it did however, delay enrollment which made fitting courses in later in their high school career
difficult (Bachofer et al., 2014).
Most participants entered into high school with an interest in a particular career field and
self-selected their CTE POS. Previous research suggested that student perceptions of CTE
programs can be positively impacted by CTE teachers (Alfeid & Bhattacharya, 2012).
Participants attributed their continued participation in their POS to their CTE teachers because
they provided much of the guidance regarding their college and career plans post-graduation
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(Alfeid & Bhattacharya, 2012). Participants were able to develop relationships with their CTE
teachers because of the common interest they shared which enhanced their learning experiences
(Allen, 2010; Jacques & Potemski, 2014). Consistent with Alfeid and Bhattacharya (2013)
study, participants valued the expertise of their CTE teachers increasing their engagement in
learning. As a result, participants shared that they were motivated to pursue their selected career
path after participation in a CTE POS.
Previous studies reported that guidance on course selection and POS participation was
encouraged by parents and friends (Alfeid & Bhattacharya, 2013; Gene, 2010). Past research
also indicated that effective communication regarding CTE programs was done through high
school presentations and career days (Gene, 2010). Effective communication and collaboration
is critical in the success of CTE POS (Shumer et al., 2012). While the participants’ parents and
peers encouraged them to take a rigorous course selection during high school to better prepare
for college, the participants in this study shared that communication regarding their CTE POS
was primarily communicated within their CTE classes by their teachers (Alfied & Bhattacharya,
2013). They did report a lack of collaboration between counselors and teachers when providing
information to students. Kalchik and Oertle, (2012), posits that the components of a career
development program could not be achieved through CTE courses alone. This study found that
most all career development activities that participants participated in were organized and
implemented through the CTE program primarily within the classes.
CTE courses as an elective has often been seen as a disadvantage (Flournoy et al., 2010).
Braley and Handy (2012), suggested that when placed in a CTE POS students often fail to
perform. Contrary to Braley and Handy’s (2012) findings, one of the participants reported that
they were placed into their POS. This participant shared that while the CTE POS was different
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than her future career goals, participating in the program itself was one of the best experiences
that she got out of high school explaining that she probably would not have come to school as
often had she not participated.
Although the transfer of knowledge and skills from one context to another is a primary
goal of education (OTEC, n.d.), past research suggest that students often fail to achieve this goal
(Brown & Dixon, 2012). In this study, participants reported that much of the content learned in
their CTE POS was useful to their everyday lives. Content covered in CTE courses was similar
to college level course work allowing students to be a step ahead in their college classes. The
21st century and basic skills learned were useful at work, college, and home. Participants
reported that above all communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving are
skills learned that they are able to apply to a variety of context in their lives. Overall,
participants experienced success in their CTE POS and collectively agreed that participation had
a positive impact on them during and after high school. Since CTE courses are electives,
participants believed that students should be required to at least take one CTE course in high
school in order to take advantage of the benefits offered within a CTE POS.
Implications
The findings from this study could prove beneficial to schools in supporting student
participation in a CTE Program of Study. Additionally, by examining student experiences, the
results of this study hopes to add to the existing literature that will provide resources to educators
to increase participation in a CTE POS that increases students’ college and career readiness
while improving the overall educational experience during high school.
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Practical Implications
The findings in this study provides strategies that can be put into practice in secondary
education systems to increase student participation in CTE Programs while improving student
performance along with increased readiness for college and careers. From the findings in this
study, specific recommendations are made for educational leaders and professionals who have an
impact on students. Direct quotes from the participants are provided in support of these
recommendations.
Recommendations for District Leaders and Administrators
The participants in this study believed that CTE programs were vitally important to
secondary education providing recommendations for additional support. District leaders and
administrators have the greatest impact when ensuring that programs such as what are available
through a CTE POS are continued in their school and district. After participation, participants
made specific recommendations as to why CTE programs should be continuously supported and
enhanced throughout the school system.
Since CTE courses are self-selected, many students may not be encouraged to participate
due to the lack of knowledge of the program and other constraints within the school. Therefore,
participants shared that they believe that CTE courses should be a required. As a requirement,
participants believed that students would be exposed to the program and have a greater chance to
continue participation and benefit from the opportunities afforded. Since local school districts
have the option to add additional graduation requirements, the researcher recommends that
district leaders implement that a CTE concentration area be required for graduation. In doing so,
students will have a greater opportunity to gain the college and career readiness skills necessary
to be successful in post-secondary education and their future career. Also, enrollment will
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expose students to a variety of college and career options prior to graduating high school that are
available through CTE programs.
Participants also shared that they believed the program was beneficial and should be
supported by administration through financial means as well. During her interview Kiera shared,
The CTE program is a really good program. They should keep supporting it because it is
helpful. I hope it gets bigger. You know how you always wish better for those behind
you. I really hope they do a lot more with the program.
Emily pointed out, “If some of the programs had better funding then the overall program would
probably be a positive thing for the students.”
Recommendations for School and Career Counselors
The participants in this study did not feel that they were provided with guidance prior to
and during high school. School and career counselors must ensure that students are provided
with guidance and advisement regarding course selections and the impact that their high school
plan has on their future goals. Most all guidance regarding their CTE POS was provided to
participants within their CTE classes, therefore, if there is a lack of participation in CTE courses,
then guidance and advisement opportunities that are available within a CTE POS will continue to
be missed by the student body.
Participants made specific recommendations for school and career counselors that could
increase efforts in ensuring that communication regarding programs available in high school are
clearly communicated allowing students to make informed decisions regarding their future.
During her interview Kayla shared, “So I feel if CTE teachers and the counselor could be you
know on the same page, which would help a lot.” She continued, “I feel like the counselor
should understand the different paths for each CTE department so that they could help their
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students you know guide them along with the CTE teachers in the right path for students.”
Alexis also believed that individuals throughout the school should work together to increase
communication. She suggested,
If the GEAR Up program, CTE, and the guidance counselors all work together to build
up the CTE enrollment that will benefit everyone. Because GEAR Up focuses on
scholarships and getting kids into college, the guidance counselors are like your helpers
as you try to get to college, and your CTE is just your all around life skill type program.
When I asked Victoria who could have the greatest impact on increasing communication she
explained, “Teachers and counselors, especially counselors because that’s where students go to
change a class or switch out of a class.”
Participants believed that communication regarding the program offerings should be
increased through a variety of career development activities. Connor and Tyler who completed
drafting recommended bringing back past graduates to speak with students regarding the
program. Connor shared, “I think . . . the best thing is to take an advanced class and show them
what they could be doing if they take this career path. You know and actually have, because that
is what helped me.” Tyler explained, “I guess have a student or someone who has graduated
who has taken CTE go and talk to the underclassman about what they are missing or what they
are letting go pass them, I would say.” Kayla, Emily, and Alexis suggested offering career fairs
to expose students to the various career options. Ethan, Emily, Victoria, and Elizabeth shared
the belief that the program was not advertised enough recommending that meetings and
orientations with students would be a great way for school counselors and other school personnel
to share information. Ethan explained,
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During orientation that would be one good way . . . maybe having each teacher like
during the first few days of class like when they are going through the syllabus and stuff
like that maybe have them mention like what more the school has to offer overall
especially your freshman year, this is more like for freshmen, 9th grade.
Ethan continued,
Maybe sending things in the mail, like with the first report card maybe send something
else in the mail about your child can become part of the CTE program. Having the
parents know more about it too.
Alexis and Emily also believed that as past graduates of the program they could serve as
advertisements to help communicate the programs benefits. Alexis shared,
If I a person that benefited so much from the program if I could tell my friends hey you
could benefit too from these classes then I think the enrollment and just the amount of
people in every class would been so much better.
Emily pointed out,
I was an advertisement for culinary. Like I was always telling people to take that class.
My little brother is going to take that class next year because I’ve told him about it. So
having people who enjoy the program as advertisements. There’s all kinds of ways.
Emily continued by recommending,
Bringing someone like me back to the school and say hey we liked this program let’s talk
about it and actually talking about those programs might get kids to thinking about it
saying that’s what I want to do, that would be fun, why not get involved with these
programs.
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Recommendations for Teachers
The participants in this study had great respect for their CTE teachers within their CTE
POS. They developed relationships and were motivated to learn within their courses.
Participants also spoke of how the material covered in CTE courses helped them with their
academic courses in high school and added to their body of knowledge that they have been able
to transfer to college and the workplace. Since the reauthorization of Perkins requires that CTE
programs link to academic content (Flournoy et al., 2010), the researcher recommends that CTE
and academic teachers begin to collaborate to implement a more integrated approach to teaching
and learning. This collaborative approach between academic and CTE teachers will increase the
development of skills that allows for activities such as cross-curricular, project-based learning to
increase student engagement and comprehension (Allen, 2010; & Lewis et al., 2012).
Recommendations are made to develop professional learning communities that allow CTE and
academic teachers the opportunity for common planning, in efforts to begin the integration
process and to develop projects that cross multiple disciplines (Braley & Handy, 2012;
Castellano et al., 2014; Fuhrman et al., 2011).
This study revealed that CTE benefits all learners in education. CTE is open to all
students, therefore the researcher recommends that additional efforts be made so that CTE, core
and exceptional children educators work together to provide resources and support for students
with disabilities to be included in CTE programs to better prepare them for their future (Ginnola,
2012). This collaborative effort can provide a respectful and positive environment for students
and increase student success (Casale-Giannola, 2012). Academic and CTE integration within an
inclusive setting will only enhance the learning process for students with disabilities better
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preparing them for the growing demands of the workforce while increasing their success in
academics.
Limitations
As the primary researcher of this phenomenological study, I was the only one who coded
the data. I did not infer that the resources provided through CTE programs are the only reason
students chose to participate in a CTE POS. Through bracketing and constant reflection during
the data collection and analysis process, I was immersed in the process and remained cognizant
of the topic and question at hand, using the participants’ words to describe the phenomenon to
avoid bias and to provide an interpretation of the results.
Limitations to this study included the number and characteristics of the participants as
well as the demographic location of the site selection. Participants were selected based on a
specific criteria using purposeful sampling using the following criterion; graduated from high
school within the last three years, the completion of a CTE concentration pathway, completion of
dual enrollment and/or articulated courses, and had earned at least one industry-recognized
credential. This study did not include students who participated in CTE programs, but did not
graduate as a CTE completer. The term CTE concentrator varies from state to state which could
limit the generalization of this study. There were 10 participants who responded to participate in
the study, three of which were male and seven were female. Participants represented seven of
the 16 National Career Clusters in the study. This school district offers concentration areas in 12
of the 16 national clusters. Although maximum variation was used, participants in this study did
not represent the below average student population. All participants who responded to this study
had completed an honors level course or higher during their participation in a program of study.
Finally, this study was limited to one public school district in the southwest region of North
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Carolina. The demographics of this site are a rural comprehensive high school in a low-
economic community.
Recommendations for Future Research
This study focused on the experiences of high school graduates who had participated in a
CTE POS. This study did not focus on the academic performance of participants, although
results revealed an increase in learning that positively increased their performance during high
school. Future studies could consist of a quantitative comparative analysis of CTE POS
participant’s academic performance as opposed to non-CTE POS participants. Additionally,
further research is recommended for those graduates who participated in a CTE POS as
compared to non-participant’s enrollment and performance in post-secondary education.
With the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and the reauthorization of
Carl D. Perkins (2006), the need to link technical studies to academic content is necessary in
illustrating relevance to the real-world. The participants in this study believed that their
participation in a CTE POS enhanced their learning in core academic classes that they were able
to transfer to college and the workplace. Further research is recommended to increase
collaboration of academic and CTE teachers in developing integrated projects and learning
experiences for students that are aligned to a student’s future college and careers goals. From
these studies a comparative analysis could be conducted to identify if CTE and academic
integration impacts student performance. As it was presented in the themes, the process of
learning and transfer of learning was positively impacted for participants through POS
participation. Future research examining the transfer of learning specifically as it relates to
academic content and technical studies taught in secondary education to post-secondary options
in college and careers is recommended. The participants in this study had all completed an
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honors level or higher course. Future research examining CTE POS participants to include
above average, average, and below average students is recommended.
Finally, this study revealed that there were limited career development opportunities
offered in secondary education. Further study on the importance of career development as it
relates to effective student transition to high school is necessary. Most participants reported a
lack of transitioning activities, which impacted their high school experiences. Career
development could be a key component to increase POS participation and CTE completion in
high school. Moreover, further research of career development examining the impact on
transition from secondary to post-secondary and careers could provide additional information to
strengthen guidance and advisement in secondary education.
Summary
This qualitative phenomenological study sought to examine the experiences of students
who participated in a CTE POS during high school. In doing the research, I examined what
factors contributed to their enrollment that led to their completion of a CTE program
concentration along with how those experiences had influenced them since graduation. The hope
was to add to the existing literature to provide resources to educators to increase participation in
a CTE POS to increase students’ college and career readiness while improving the overall
educational experience during high school. The experiences of 10 CTE POS participants were
examined and within their stories four common themes emerged.
Though there have been numerous studies on CTE programs, there were few on CTE
POS that addressed student experiences and the few were quantitative in nature. This study was
able to explore, first-hand, the stories of the lived experiences of participants who participated in
a CTE POS and share those stories to enhance the educational process. By focusing on four
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primary questions to describe the participants’ experiences, the researcher believed that
providing answers to these questions would address the gap in literature and would provide
educators with resources and a basis for instructional improvement to enhance educational
opportunities to students in the future. The researcher of this study concludes that students who
participate in a CTE POS are better prepared for post-secondary education and their future career
than had they participated in an academic-only program (Harvard Pathways to Prosperity Report,
2011).
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