National overview of CTE and dual-enrollment policies

Preparing youth to succeed in college or a career upon graduating high school is one of the most important outcomes of public education in the U.S. To better understand how, or if, states are accomplishing this task, the Education Commission of the States published two 50-state comparisons: one spotlighting secondary career technical education (CTE) and another on dual-enrollment policies.

50-State Comparison: Secondary Career and Technical Education

CTE provides students with real-world 21st-century skills that make them career and college ready. These include not only industry-specific and academic skills, but soft skills needed in any workplace, including critical thinking, communication, team work, leadership, complex problem solving and innovation.

Participation in high-quality CTE has been shown to have overwhelmingly positive impacts on students, according to the California Department of Education. For instance, students in California Partnership Academies were much more likely than their peers to complete the academic A-G courses needed for admission to California’s public colleges and universities — 57 percent to 36 percent, respectively. CTE participation has also been shown to more than double the rate of college entrance for minority students and increased college enrollment rates for all student populations, boost graduation rates and school connectedness, and reduce behavioral problems, suspensions and expulsions.

At least 37 states including California have policy that addresses CTE program establishment or approval. The State Board of Education has approved 15 career clusters — a grouping of industry pathways identified and organized to structure CTE programs to meet student and industry needs. These include agriculture; arts, media and entertainment; building trades and construction; business and finance; child development and family services; engineering and design; health science and medical technology; and information technology.

According to the Education Commission, at least 23 states have provisions for a CTE diploma or diploma designation to recognize successful completion of CTE programs as part of a standard high school diploma. California is not one of them.

50-State Comparison: Dual/Concurrent Enrollment Policies

Dual-enrollment courses provide students with the opportunity to access advanced learning experiences, earn high school and college credit simultaneously, and oftentimes lower their tuition burden toward a postsecondary degree. Participation in dual enrollment has been shown to increase college persistence and completion rates.

Dual enrollment has been steadily increasing in California, according to a 2021 report from the Public Policy Institute of California, which found all community colleges offer some form of dual enrollment, and more than 112,000 high school students in the 2019–20 graduating class participated — an increase of 56 percent from 2015–16.

The Education Commission analyzed policy found in statutes, regulations and other state policy documents and guidelines, as of May 2022, with data divided into five sections: program basics; access, including state policies on student access to programs; courses, including state policies on course offerings and limitations; finance, including state policies on program finance; and quality, including state policies on quality assurance mechanisms associated with the program.

California’s profile is available here, and nationwide results show:

  • 48 states and the District of Columbia have state-level dual-enrollment policies.
  • 28 states have established multiple dual-enrollment programs through state policy, with five states having three established programs and two states having four programs.
  • 27 states require secondary and/or postsecondary partners to notify students and parents of at least one of their state-level dual-enrollment programs.
  • 41 states specified student eligibility criteria for at least one dual-enrollment program through state policy. Common categories of specified student eligibility criteria include student grade level (33 states); meeting the postsecondary institution’s entrance requirements (26 states); and having a recommendation from a school official (19 states).
  • 42 states specified instructor qualification requirements, with common instructor qualification requirements including meeting the postsecondary institution’s faculty requirements (29 states); meeting institutional accreditor requirements (15 states); and having a graduate degree (9 states).