The Impact of Policy Reforms and Online Learning on CTE Students

Career Technical Education (CTE) is a growing and vital training option in California. CTE provides students with a hands-on educational experience that ties academics to real world workplace training. EDGE prioritizes policy change and investments that strengthen CTE programs and broadened access to these programs, including the expansion of online learning. This article aims to explore recent policy reforms and investments, and their impact on CTE students.

The number of certificate and degree seeking CTE students in the California Community Colleges system has increased dramatically in the last decade, with over 1.2 million students currently enrolled in CTE programs. Funding reforms contributed to these increases, along with new policies that streamline admissions, facilitate credit transfers, and increase student access to technology. The 2022-23 State Budget builds upon previous efforts to bolster CTE in California, such as the K-12 Golden State Pathways Grant Program and the California Youth Leadership Corps (CYLC) – two major investments EDGE supported and advocated for in the state budget process. This year’s budget set aside $500 million in competitive grants to establish the K-12 Golden State Pathways Grant Program to support career pathways focused on technology, health care, education, and climate-related fields. These programs will require local partnerships that bring together K-12, post-secondary education institutions, industry, and other community partners. EDGE supported this item and will continue to engage, particularly where community college partnerships are involved, to ensure they have the capacity to collaborate and offer these programs. Additionally, the state budget provides $60 million in one-time funding to expand CYLC programs, a partnership between the Labor Agency and community colleges, which will provide earn-and-learn training opportunities and resources for underserved students of color, immigrant youth, and opportunity youth who are experiencing poverty and are facing barriers to education and employment opportunities.

Other key state programs that receive ongoing investments and contribute to CTE pathways are the Career Technical Education Incentive Grant (CTEIG) program administered by the California Department of Education (CDE), and the Strong Workforce Program administered by the Community College’s Chancellor Office (CCCCO) – both programs provide CTE options that increase social mobility for students. EDGE has been a strong supporter of the Strong Workforce Program – most recently EDGE advocated for an additional $42 million to support the program, which was approved in the 2021-22 budget cycle. EDGE continues to engage and monitor this program to ensure sustainable funding is available and that students are provided with quality CTE that lead to high-wage jobs.

EDGE supported and advocated for $200 million that was approved in the state budget to expand dual enrollment opportunities, which will allow more students, including CTE students, to earn college credit as they earn their high school diploma or equivalency, putting them on an accelerated track to complete their educational goals and secure good jobs. These increased investments and policy initiatives expand access to CTE and can improve access and completion rates.

In addition to statewide investments, California’s community colleges have been leading the way in providing online CTE programs, which offer a flexible and convenient way to complete a degree or certificate. The CCCCO has provided funding to help colleges implement high-quality online education through several initiatives, such as the California Virtual Campus – Online Education Initiative. However, equity concerns remain due to barriers students face related to broadband and technology access, as well as digital literacy. To address this issue, the state budget approved a historic $6 billion dollar investment in 2021 to expand broadband infrastructure and enhance internet access for unserved and underserved communities across the state. This investment will advance the state’s commitment to bridging the digital divide by building the needed infrastructure, connecting millions of students and working families with quality high-speed internet. EDGE engaged in advocacy efforts to support this critical investment, which also includes grant funding for digital literacy training programs for communities facing socioeconomic barriers to broadband access. This investment will help support more access to CTE opportunities that contain hybrid distance learning models. Further, EDGE supported the Governor’s commitment in the 2022-23 budget, depending on available state funding in 2024, to authorize a streamlined approach and increased investment to the state’s financial aid program that will address student’s tuition and non-tuition costs, including technology tools. EDGE will continue to advocate for full implementation of this reform as it would address longstanding structural inequities and remove barriers that have kept underserved students, opportunity youth and adult learners from entering into our state’s workforce pipeline.

One of the biggest challenges facing CTE students is that they often have to balance schoolwork with family responsibilities, work schedules, and other commitments outside of school. This means that there are fewer hours available for traditional face-to-face instruction which can be problematic for some students who need more flexibility than others to master their course material. Online learning often provides students with opportunities to connect with their instructors in a variety of modalities at a variety of times during the day, which allows students greater flexibility to engage in educational programming when it works best for their schedule.

CTE has tremendous potential for training California’s future workforce by providing education that is closely tied to the workplace, foregoing traditional coursework that is not at all related to the career field they are studying for. Through recent statewide investments and several policy initiatives, California is not only strengthening accessibility of CTE programs, but rebuilding the state’s workforce pipeline and fueling our state’s economic recovery. EDGE is committed to advancing CTE and believes that all Californians deserve access to quality education and training programs that prepare students for 21st century careers. Stay connected by joining our email list so you never miss an update or advocacy opportunity.

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