In your grandmother’s day, or possibly even in your parent’s day, manufacturing jobs were abundant and paid a good living with benefits. Community Colleges offered a way to earn credits that could transfer to four-year colleges or programs to train for a few professions that required specific skills, such as auto-mechanic or plumber.

How Things Have Changed

Your grandparents remember vocational education offered in high school. Most boys took some vocational education classes, and built birdhouses or bookends, while girls took home economics and made aprons and apple pandowdy. But, they probably remember the training program as being for students who were academically challenged.

Times have changed. High schools no longer have vocational education programs. These have been replaced with Career Technical Education (CTE). The change has been gradual, and we may have been slow to realize the difference.

As with any significant change, nothing happens all at once in a clear shift. Change is gradual, and people are informed at different levels.

A federal study on Career Technical Education found that although these types of classes used to be for students “without a strong academic orientation,” now students of all kinds take these classes. CTE is no longer a track for low-achievers; it becomes a valid pathway to many lucrative careers. And although the array of students taking these courses has grown, numbers of students concentrating on CTE (taking three or more CTE courses) has been declining since the 1980s (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, 2013, p. vii).

Guided Pathways

Guided pathways are academic plans that lead to being prepared for careers. These channels can begin in high school in the CTE programs, then continue in the community colleges.

Career Pathways

Today, many professional careers do not require four-year degrees. Students can prepare for these beginning in their high schools and continue on a guided pathway through their community colleges. Many students don’t know about these career paths. North Carolina developed a website that provides information about the career paths available.

Some of the more lucrative careers that can be obtained through community colleges include cardiovascular technology, radiation therapy technology, nursing, dental hygiene, medical sonography, and cardiovascular sonography.


Today’s career paths in Community Colleges are not for low-achieving non-academic students. To enroll in credit-bearing courses for many of the career pathways offered at North Carolina’s community colleges, students must either meet the ACT Benchmark scores of 22 on the math subscale and 18 on the English or take developmental courses, not for credit.

Students need to have a good foundation in math and English to meet these benchmarks. CTE students should enroll in rigorous high school courses to prepare for these career opportunities.

On the Horizon

Beginning in 2018-2019, (Section 10.13 of S.L. 2015-241: Career and College Ready Graduates) high schools in North Carolina will provide opportunities for college remediation for students before high school graduation through cooperation with community college partners. This program will be mandatory for high school students in their senior year who have not met benchmarks established by the SBCC in their junior year.

Guided Pathways to Careers are Available

Students and school counselors need to know about the career paths from CTE programs in high school to Community Colleges, and on to careers. There are much higher academic expectations for today’s CTE programs than in your grandmothers’ day. People who don’t understand that may discourage students from this path.

Explore the career information on

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U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, Policy and Program Studies Service (2013). National Assessment of Career and Technical Education: interim report. Washington D.C. Retrieved from