AAUW Issues: Career and Technical Education

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

Our 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 jobs that will adequately support themselves and their families.

Additional Resources

Download Printable Quick Facts on CTE

Gender and Career and Technical Education

The last few years have been particularly unkind to American women. Even in occupational sectors traditionally dominated by women, such as education and health services, men regained jobs at a faster rate than women in the post-recession economy. As our economy slowly recovers, many workers will need access to training to upgrade their skills to fit new demands.

Women tend to be overwhelmingly clustered in low-wage, low-skill jobs. In high-wage, high-skill fields, women’s representation falls well below the 25 percent threshold that qualifies as a “nontraditional field.” A recent analysis by the National Coalition of Women and Girls in Education found that women and girls remain concentrated in career and technical education (CTE) courses that are traditional for women and are relatively low paying. Across the country, women make up 85 percent of students in traditionally female fields and only 18 percent of those in typically male fields.

Women who do not earn a bachelor’s degree — and therefore constitute an important population group for CTE programming — are paid only 68 percent of the median income for their male peers.

Federal Investments in Career and Technical Education

The Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act funds CTE programs at secondary and postsecondary institutions across the country.

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 send the message 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. (See below.)

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 Vocational and Adult Education must work to identify and remedy barriers to gender equity in CTE programs.
  • 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.