New state plan raises bar for career and technical education in Illinois

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jun. 16, 2020 4:20 pm Updated: Jun. 16, 2020 9:23 pm

QUINCY — A new statewide plan raises the bar for career and technical education, or CTE, in Illinois and sets up students for success in the post-pandemic economy.

The Illinois State Board of Education said the plan — among the first in the nation to get federal approval — establishes pathways from high school diploma to high-quality degree or credential while ensuring students gain essential skills and experiences along the way.

"Basically what the plan involves is changing vocational education to career tech education and aligning it to workforce needs," said Evie Morrison, director of the Quincy Area Vocational Technical Center and West Central Region Education for Employment, which administers grants for 10 school districts in Adams and Pike counties.

"What we're attempting to do is align all of our programs to jobs that are in demand in the area -- high-skill, high-wage, in demand jobs."

The federal Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, also known as Perkins V, calls upon each state to craft a plan to fulfill the promise of CTE as an engine for economic empowerment.

"It's getting things into the 21st Century and really focusing on what careers are in demand now and looking into the future," Morrison said.

Morrison said the state's plan has five goals:

Increase post-secondary and industry-recognized credential achievement.

Enhance career pathway opportunities.

Increase early college credit opportunities.

Increase responsiveness to communities' workforce needs.

Ensure CTE students are educated by highly qualified and effective educators.

"A lot of that is already in place" at QAVTC, Morrison said, but "we maybe will put more emphasis on some items like the internships. We've tried to work with employers to develop more internships. We looked into apprenticeships, but for most you have to be 18 years old, so we've done more of the internship approach."

As the state developed its plan, school districts had to verify current offerings and indicate career pathways as part of a program of study approval then do a local needs assessment involving input from students, teachers, administrators and employers.

"Part of the plan that each district submitted had to involved collaboration with the local community college … to have dual enrollment or articulated credit agreements and have some industry-recognized credentials and community college-recognized credentials as well like our CNA license, child care licensure and diesel certification," Morrison said.

CTE programs like QAVTC also work to meet community needs.

"Our diesel program came about as a result of demand in the community. Adams County is pretty high demand for diesel techs, really a transportation hub," Morrison said. "We're also always updating our programs, using more technology. As industry changes, we try to keep our current programs up to date with industry standards."

The state plan provides financial incentives for programs to offer dual-credit opportunities and connect students directly with area businesses, ISBE said, as well as requiring funded programs to meet benchmarks for size, scope and recruitment.

"We now have higher standards for program quality, equity and access, as well as tools and strategies to help programs meet these higher standards. Our plan includes funding to incentivize deeper connections between students and employers," State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala said in a news release.

"Strong Career and Technical Education will help Illinois rebuild our economy after COVID-19 and equip our students with the skills and experiences they need to succeed in a 21st century workforce."