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OECD Report on Postsecondary CTE in the U.S. Released

Posted on 07/19/2013


The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD External link opens in new window or tab) released an Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) and National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) funded report, A Skills beyond School Review of the United States External link opens in new window or tab, on the state of postsecondary career-technical education (CTE) in the United States on July 10 at a special event hosted by the New America Foundation External link opens in new window or tab. The report is part of the OECD's Skills beyond School External link opens in new window or tab project, which reviews postsecondary education and training in more than 20 countries in the context of their preparation of younger people and adults for technical and professional jobs. Research for the U.S. country report was conducted from May 2012 through March 2013, and included two visits to the United States as well as case studies of Florida, Washington, and Maryland.

The report begins by noting the growing skills challenge facing many OECD countries, one that could become increasingly acute in the U.S. given the relatively flat levels of postsecondary attainment in recent decades. While the U.S. led the world a generation ago in the proportion of its workforce with a postsecondary credential, attainment has stalled, and 12 other OECD countries now have higher percentages of 25–34-year-olds with a postsecondary certificate or degree. The U.S. still has many of the world's elite institutions of higher education, but OECD calls into question "the capacity of the broader postsecondary system to provide the wide range of postsecondary skills which will be needed by the workforce."

OECD notes that decentralization is responsible for many of the strengths of the U.S. postsecondary CTE system, as well as many of the challenges it faces. Among the strengths, OECD notes that it allows postsecondary CTE providers to respond flexibly to the needs of a variety of students, employers, and other stakeholders. The system is also inclusive, with open-access policies and ample opportunities for adults to enter or reenter postsecondary education and training programs to upgrade their skills. The labor market returns to associate degrees and certificates are generally good, and the system allows for a great deal of policy development and innovation.

However, OECD warns that the U.S. system has weak quality-assurance mechanisms that rely too heavily on institutional accreditation and that are not equipped to provide clear quality standards for CTE programs. Postsecondary occupational credentials are also less organized than in other countries, which often results in a lack of clarity for students and employers about the skills and credentials needed for many jobs. Lastly, the complicated postsecondary environment in the U.S. offers a variety of choices for students but does not always support smooth transitions into postsecondary education and training, between institutions, and out of postsecondary programs into the labor market.

OECD's overarching recommendation for the U.S. postsecondary CTE system is to balance the impressive diversity of this decentralized system with "a strategic pursuit of more quality, coherence and transparency." The report includes specific recommendations grouped into three categories: tying federal Title IV funding to stronger quality standards; anchoring postsecondary credentials in the needs of industry; and building effective transitions for students into, within, and out of postsecondary education and training.

From the OVAE Connection External link opens in new window or tab newsletter of the Office of Vocational and Adult Education, U. S. Department of Education, July 11, 2013.

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