AAUW Issues: Career and Technical Education

The American Association of University Women supports educational programs,
including vocational education, that improve women’s postsecondary
education access, career development, and earning potential.

The global economy demands more highly skilled and educated workers every day. While more women are working than ever before, many do not have the skills necessary to obtain high-wage, high-skill jobs that provide economic security. In today’s growing economy, we must develop a highly qualified technical workforce for the United States to remain competitive.

Additional Resources

Download Printable Quick Facts on CTE

Gender and Career and Technical Education

Women tend to be overwhelmingly clustered in low-wage, low-skill jobs. They outnumber men in low-wage jobs, making up 57 percent of workers paid under $15 an hour. In many high-wage, high-skill fields, women’s representation falls well below the 25 percent threshold. These sectors therefore qualify as “nontraditional” fields for women. In addition, women who do not earn a bachelor’s degree are paid only 68 percent of the median income for their male peers.

One important way to help women workers move into higher-wage, higher-skill jobs is to ensure they have access to the necessary skills training to meet new opportunities and changing demands — and this training must be accessible to all. But women continue to face barriers to equity in career and technical education (CTE). Hurdles such as the lack of role models, proper career counseling about nontraditional fields, sex-based harassment, and overt discrimination are only a few examples of challenges women face in CTE.

A recent analysis by the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education found that women and girls remain concentrated in career and technical education courses that are traditional for women and are relatively low-paying. For example, only 26 percent of individuals employed in computer and mathematical occupations are women, a field nontraditional for their gender.

Federal Investments in Career and Technical Education

The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act funds CTE programs at secondary and postsecondary institutions across the country. CTE programs work, helping students and workers move toward employment and economic security. In fact, research shows that when students are CTE concentrators they graduate from high school at a rate higher than the national average. And students who concentrate in a CTE program at the postsecondary level achieve significantly higher earnings than those who majored in academic fields.

The Perkins Act also includes critical gender equity provisions intended to increase the number of women in nontraditional careers. The provision specifically requires federally funded institutions to promote gender equity and be held accountable for participation and completion rates in programs nontraditional for their gender.

The federal government’s investment in high-quality CTE is essential to meeting the needs of the nation’s evolving high-tech workplaces. The gender equity provisions in the law reinforce that CTE is critical to ensuring that women have opportunities throughout their lifetimes to develop the skills needed to be competitive in the global economy.

Improving Participation

A recent AAUW report, Women in Community Colleges: Access to Success, profiles several successful programs making strides in moving women into high-wage, high-skill jobs, many of which are in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Key to these programs’ success has been active recruitment of women and meaningful supportive services.

Participation and achievement in CTE should not be bound by sex segregation, gender stereotypes, harassment, or other barriers that prevent girls and women from becoming economically self-sufficient.

There are many ways to improve women and girls’ engagement in CTE programs:

  • State and local education agencies must be held accountable for improving the successful outcomes of women and girls in CTE programs, especially in programs that are nontraditional for their gender and lead to high-skill, high-wage employment.
  • Accountability and disaggregated student data collection must be the cornerstones for planning and funding decisions at all levels.
  • The U.S. Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education must work to identify and remedy barriers to gender equity in CTE programs.
  • Promote the expansion of public/private collaborations with secondary and post-secondary programs to provide career pathways for students and support in-demand industries and occupations.
  • Support services must include training-related options such as dependent care, transportation assistance, counseling, tuition assistance, and other services that allow individuals to successfully complete training programs. Teachers and administrators must be trained to create classrooms free of harassment and stereotypical attitudes.
  • Career guidance and counseling must be provided to all students and delivered in a fair manner that ensures students are receiving information about high-skill, high-wage careers in nontraditional fields.
  • Improve evaluation and research to support best practices and innovation and support sustained and necessary funding.