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Career-Tech Education Needs Greater Accountability, Reports Says

Along with the push for traditional four-year college-degree completion, there is a growing demand for workers with postsecondary certificates. In the United States, about 1 million are awarded annually.

While a new report describes the country's career and technical education approach as strong, it calls for changes to make it more transparent and predictable.

"A Skills Beyond School Review" by Małgorzata Kuczera and Simon Field from the the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development was released Wednesday.

The report applauds the inclusive philosophy of the country's comprehensive high schools, open access community colleges, and the flexible ways that the system meets the needs of diverse learners. It also says, on average, labor-market returns from postsecondary CTE are good.

Yet the OECD concludes that the CTE system in the U.S. is risky and more confusing than in other countries.

The report lists three significant barriers to postsecondary attainment:

1. The basic skills of U.S. teenagers and high school graduates are relatively weak compared with many those in other OECD countries.

2. Decentralization of CTE makes it more difficult for individuals to choose paths to a target career.

3. The financial risks of investing in postsecondary education can be higher in the U.S. because costs and returns are highly variable.

The report warns that the relatively weak quality assurance, coupled with increasing tuition fees, constrained public budgets, and broader economic distress, creates a dangerous financial risk for individuals, lenders, and the government.

The OEDC report proposes reforms to improve student outcomes and make CTE more predictable.

It suggests that there should be a strategic pursuit of more quality, coherence, and transparency, while also accepting the diverse and decentralized approach to CTE in the U.S.

"To deliver this overarching recommendation, students need assurance that the CTE programs they are pursuing will be good value for money, that their credentials will be recognized in the labor market, and that transitions in and out of postsecondary programs can be managed effectively," the report says.

Among it's recommendations: clear quality standards for CTE programs, greater accountability, better data-tracking performance, and linkage of funding with outcomes.

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