A few weeks ago, TIME Magazine reporter Joe Klein visited Arizona and chronicled his tours to the East Valley Institute of Technology in Mesa and a Career and Technical Education program at Monument Valley High School in Kayenta.   What he saw was impressive and inspiring and illustrates how making education relevant to students helps to create engaging learning environments and prepare students for success in postsecondary education.

Career and Technical Education (CTE) provides an additional pathway for students to continue their education after high school.  About 27% of students in Arizona opt for the CTE path, and research shows they are more likely to score higher on state tests, graduate from high school and go on to higher education.   In addition, CTE often teaches students the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in the workforce. (National Research Center for Career and Technical Education).  For example, research such as the Harvard University study, “Pathways to Prosperity”, states that U.S. employers complain today’s young adults are not equipped with the skills needed to succeed in the 21st century workforce.  They highlight another study which concludes that more than half of high school graduates were “deficient” in such skills as oral and written communication, critical thinking and professionalism.

CTE programs offer opportunities for students to learn these skills and, ultimately, become better prepared to take advantage of the options and opportunities that will be presented to them throughout their life.  For many students, career focused education that integrates work and hands-on learning is an effective way to learn.  Not surprisingly, young people who have been in programs teaching them about “working life” and soft skills as well as career training and experience often do better at finding jobs (Pathways to Prosperity, page 20).

The bottom line is, regardless of what path our students choose, postsecondary completion must be the new norm for all Arizona students.  Whether it’s a certificate, license, associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree, our students need to complete additional education after high school and, as the TIME article shows, Arizona has some bright spots to celebrate.

Click here to read “Learning That Works” by Joe Klein.

Pearl Chang Esau is President and CEO of Expect More Arizona.