Opportunities for Career Credentials in Secondary CTE

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Written by: Damion Pechota and Tom Keily
May 13, 2020
In response to growing requests and interest in secondary career and technical education, Education Commission of the States recently released a 50-State Comparison that examines state policy on a range of secondary CTE topics from funding to teacher licensure. This is the final post in our CTE series where we’ve highlighted interesting findings and state policy examples for CTE.

Obtaining career credentials in a secondary setting can serve as a strong indication of skills to a student’s future employers and educational institutions. Some state career and technical education policies provide opportunities to improve secondary student college and career readiness through earning credentials, which can serve as an on-ramp to future skill obtainment and careers. Generally, students earn credentials in secondary CTE programs through a combination of classroom instruction, industry assessments and work-based learning experiences.

To provide opportunities for students to earn credentials in a secondary setting, states have taken a range of policy approaches. Our recent 50-State Comparison on Secondary CTE explores state policies that allow secondary students to receive career credentials through CTE courses. The comparison found that at least 27 states and the District of Columbia have a policy in place allowing students to attain credentials. Examining these states’ statutes and regulations revealed at least four state policy approaches to credential attainment through CTE programs, including:

  • Incentives and funding to support district and school programs.
  • Graduation requirements and areas of study in college career and readiness pathways.
  • Performance assessments to measure credential progression.
  • Dual credit at community and technical colleges.


In some states, incentive funds provided by the state encourage districts and schools to develop and support CTE and work-based learning programs that lead to state approved, industry-recognized credentials.

For example, in Colorado, school districts can receive funds through the Career Development Success Program to support students in grades 9-12 in completing a qualified industry credential program. Specifically, districts and charter schools receive a $1,000 incentive for each high school student who completes, among other work-based learning programs, qualified industry credential programs. In the 2017-18 school year, the state reported 5,689 qualifying credentials earned, an increase from 3,655 reported during the 2016-17 school year.

Graduation Pathways

Some states include CTE courses that lead to industry-recognized credentials and serve as indicators of college and career readiness as part of their high school graduation requirements.

For example, students in Georgia can earn three units of credit in a sequence of CTE courses through a self-selected pathway leading to a college readiness and a career readiness certificate endorsed by related industries. These courses align the career, technical and agricultural education pathway with industry-recognized credentials, depending on a student’s area of interest.


States also use academic performance assessments to measure a high school student’s progression in career credentials. In Oklahoma, the department of commerce, in cooperation with the department of education and the commission for educational quality and accountability, reviews and approves career-readiness assessments and assessment-based credentials. These state-approved credentials measure and document foundational workplace skills that lead to nationally recognized work-readiness certificates.

Dual Enrollment

Some states do not provide opportunities for students to earn career credentials through secondary education but do provide a pathway to earn credit that may be applied to a postsecondary and career credential.

In Mississippi, as part of its career track to a standard high school diploma, students have the option to take courses at a technical college that connect to future career and postsecondary credentials. Through both secondary CTE and dual enrollment opportunities, the career track program prepares students to obtain career credentials or other certifications in the future.

Regardless of the policy approach, states are actively designing programs and supporting resources for secondary student success in obtaining industry-recognized credentials. What remains is how states will continue to change their CTE requirements to meet the needs of an evolving economy.

Author profile

Tom Keily

Tom Keily

Principal at Education Commission of the States | tkeily@ecs.org

As a principal, Tom works on topics relating to connections between education and workforce development, among other P-20 education policy topics. Prior to joining Education Commission of the States, Tom taught middle school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Tom is dedicated to providing state policymakers with quality research that supports them in making a positive impact on students' lives.

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