IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

What Does Federal ‘Raise the Bar’ Initiative Mean for CTE?

The U.S. Department of Education’s “Raise the Bar” initiative aims to use investment, localized partnerships and awareness campaigns to expand access to high-quality career and technical education programs.

career technical education
According to a 2022 study from the education nonprofit American Student Assistance (ASA), 81 percent of employers across industries think hiring should prioritize skills over degrees — a trend that bodes well for the rise of IT “boot camps” and accelerated training programs that have emerged in recent years to certify students for tech jobs. With demand growing for technical career training programs, the U.S. Department of Education in November launched the “Raise the Bar: Lead the World” initiative, channeling federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) and the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act of 2018 to make such programs more accessible. It’s in its early days, but some education advocates endorse the initiative for bringing much-needed investment, attention and private-public partnerships to career fields that will only become more important in the near future.

According to a news release, the initiative will offer guidance to schools on how they can use ARP funds, and the department will convene regional summits to inform students, educators, employers and other stakeholders about best practices in CTE programming. The release added that these efforts dovetail with facets of President Biden’s FY 2023 budget, including $1.4 billion for career and technical education programs, with a $20 million hike in state CTE grants, plus another $200 million for “career-connected high schools” and grants to partnerships between K-12, colleges and employers in support of programs for dual enrollment, work-based learning, career counseling and career-connected instruction in the last two years of high school.

In the long run, the news release said, these investments aim to fill new job openings in advanced manufacturing, the automotive industry, cybersecurity and other technical fields, expected to emerge from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and CHIPS and Science Act passed last year.

Julie Lammers, senior vice president of advocacy and corporate social responsibility for ASA, said ASA supports federal efforts to promote CTE in K-12 and expose more students, earlier in their education, to career options they’d otherwise be unaware of. She said ASA’s researchers recently found that 50 percent of high schoolers go to college for majors in career fields that they don’t end up pursuing, suggesting a need for career training alternatives for those who are less certain about traditional higher-ed degree paths.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to use some of the existing resources that were put out through the American Rescue Plan and direct them towards work-based learning opportunities,” she said. “We know from our work that kids start to foreclose opportunities if they haven’t [learned of] them by middle school. I think in the STEM fields in particular, we see kids that had a poor experience with math or don’t understand a particular STEM field, and they don’t even see it as an option for them.”

In light of the “Raise the Bar” initiative, Lammers said ASA recently created a guide on best practices, “High School Work-based Learning: Best Practices Designed to Improve Career Readiness Outcomes for Today’s Youth,” which describes various ways states have worked to promote CTE. Among the examples are New Jersey’s Career Accelerator Internship Grant Program, which provides participating employers with up to 50 percent of wages paid to new interns, and Rhode Island’s Work-Based Learning Navigator, a portal that allows employers to post available work-based learning opportunities and educators to search and track those programs across the state and request resources based on their needs.

Lammers wrote in an email that much of ASA’s work in recent years has revolved around providing free digital experiences for teens, and supporting other organizations and policies that introduce children to potential career interests starting as early as middle school.

“To this end, ASA supports the Raising the Bar: Lead the World initiative, which includes Perkins funding for schools to expand work-based learning opportunities and a commitment to ensuring every student has a pathway to postsecondary education and career success,” she wrote.

Lammers said federal support for CTE programming is especially important today to prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow, particularly in industries that have become increasingly digitized in recent years. She said she’s hopeful that “dedicated resources to work-based learning from the federal government will allow schools to expand these programs to a larger number of students.”

“Kids need an opportunity to really link their classroom work to real-world experiences, and work-based learning opportunities like internships and entrepreneurship experiences allow kids to see in real time why it’s important to the things that they’re learning at school,” Lammers said. “We have done quite a bit of work over the last few years to increase the availability of these work experiences for students to not only build career skills and understand what their own personal interests and aptitudes are, but really link their classroom learning to real life experiences.”

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story misattributed a quote from an email that did not identify its source.
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.