(Rep. Joe Heck) – Last week, I joined with Rep. John Kline of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce in hosting a congressional field hearing to examine career and technical education programs in Nevada and throughout the nation. As the United States continues to diversify its economy to keep pace in a rapidly changing global marketplace, we will need a well-educated, highly trained workforce to fill the jobs of the future. Promoting and expanding access to career and technical education will help ensure students are career- or college-ready and that we have a workforce ready to fill the jobs of today and tomorrow.
Students who pursue career and technical education (CTE) tend to excel academically because they are more interested, energized and engaged studying fields that appeal to them. The Clark County School District is a great example of this.
CCSD is home to 25 magnet schools and career and technical academies. Seventeen of these schools, including Southwest Career and Technical Academy, the site of last week’s field hearing, were recently recognized as either a school of excellence or a school of distinction by the national organization Magnet Schools of America.
However, Nevada’s magnet and CTE students are not just excelling in the subjects related to their chosen career path. During the 2012-13 school year, 88 percent of 11th-graders in CTE concentrations met the proficient or advanced level on the reading portion of the Nevada High School Proficiency Examination, while 87 percent met the proficient or advanced level on the math portion. These achievements have led to a nearly 85 percent graduation rate among Nevada’s CTE students, which is 10 percentage points better than the national average and nearly 15 percentage points better than their traditional high school peers in Nevada.
Students enrolled in CTE programs are challenging themselves to learn highly advanced and technical subjects that will help them fill currently in-demand jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, there are about 4 million job openings across the nation. Among the top industries looking to hire are professional and business services, health care and social assistance. Additionally, we know that demand for workers in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math — is rapidly increasing.
CTE students in Nevada are devoting themselves to these in-demand fields so they will be career-ready after they complete their education. In Clark County, nearly half of all CTE students are studying information and media technology or the skilled and technical sciences, and more than a quarter are studying business and the health sciences.
Also encouraging is that many CTE students are pursuing opportunities in public-service fields such as criminal justice, law enforcement and early childhood development. All told, our CTE students are preparing themselves for jobs in fields that will continue to spur our economic recovery and strengthen our communities.
Finally, CTE extends these opportunities to individuals who are disproportionately affected by the economic recession and the sluggish pace of our economic recovery. In Clark County, Hispanics and blacks account for 53 percent of the high school level CTE student population; an additional 8 percent are Asian-Americans. These minority CTE students are outperforming their traditional high school peers across Nevada, with all three groups boasting graduation rates of more than 80 percent.
These demographic groups are a growing, thriving part of the diverse culture and economy of the Las Vegas Valley. By enrolling in CTE programs, these students are learning skills and acquiring knowledge that will help put them on a path to educational success, as well as strengthen and diversify our local economy.
The state of Nevada and CCSD are demonstrating how effective career and technical education programs can help our students achieve success in the classroom and in the workforce.
I look forward to working with Kline and the rest of the committee to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act to ensure that we maintain our commitment to these critical programs.
(Rep. Joe Heck, a Republican, represents Nevada’s 3rd District in the House of Representatives. He is a member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. This column was originally published in the Las Vegas Sun on March 23, 2014)