Student participation in career and technical education, or CTE, courses at McKinney ISD is “strong,” officials said. As of the 2019-20 school year, which is the most recent data available from the Texas Education Agency, more than half of all high school students in McKinney ISD have enrolled in these courses.

MISD students are encouraged to explore CTE programs, according to Todd Young, MISD senior director of career and technical education. The experience gained through CTE courses in high school helps students be more sure about their future careers, he said. In many cases, students can also start working immediately in their field upon high school graduation.

“Kids are learning a trade,” Young said. “Most of these trades that we offer, you can go on into college and continue with that.”

Unlike traditional high school courses, these programs—which include courses from agriculture to transportation logistics—offer practical training and certification that helps students hone in on specializations earlier in their careers, according to the Texas Education Agency.

A variety of state and federal funding is available to school districts for these programs through the continued reauthorization of the Carl Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006, most recently reauthorized by Congress in 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Funding is then allocated by the TEA based on local economic considerations, jobs available and student needs.

Many students who study CTE programs are able to graduate high school and be employable in a “high-paying, high-demand environment,” Young said.“The trades are definitely an industry that are just starving for talent and people,” Young said.

How it works

The district starts raising awareness of its CTE programs when students are in eighth grade, Young said. Each December the district puts out information about these courses so staff can best prepare for the number of students who have signed up.

CTE programs are typically offered during high school for MISD students, with classes offered at all three high schools. Starting from their freshman year, students can select a course of study—or pathway—and if they choose, they can follow that pathway all the way through their senior year, said Jennifer Peirson, McKinney Boyd High School principal. However, MISD also allows students to take more than one course of study.

“I think that’s the bottom line, is trying to help kids find things that they’re going to do for the rest of their lives that they enjoy doing and that they’re passionate about doing,” Peirson said. “That doesn’t always mean college.”

CTE classes differ from other classes in that they are not lecture-based, Peirson said. The teachers and students are usually producing or creating something during the class period, such as programming a piece of software; creating an animation; or designing bouquets and gaining business experience in the district’s floral shop, Boyd Blooms, where students and businesses can purchase floral arrangements.

“These are actually courses that they’re going to be able to do something with, whether it’s to earn that extra money while going to college or if that’s their career path,” Peirson said.

One such instance of hands-on learning involves the district’s aviation program where students can learn about various aspects of the aviation field, from earning their pilot’s license to building their own airplane over the course of a school year. In 2017, McKinney Mayor George Fuller and school Board Member Amy Dankel, who is now board president, took the class project for a spin and were able to fly in the aircraft out of McKinney National Airport.

The airport is just one of the district’s partners with CTE programs. Young said others include Habitat for Humanity of Collin County and local hospitals.

“All CTE clusters are required to have an advisory board,” Young said. “Every advisory board will usually have two or three different businesses on it.”

Expanding professions

In addition to providing students with hands-on experience with real-world work, MISD offers certifications in many of its pathways so students can either get a step ahead on college applications or enter the workforce, Young said.Michelle Millen, dean of health sciences and emergency services at Collin College, said all the partnerships the college has with MISD leads to a certification.

She said not only do CTE programs help students explore career path options, but they also involve more rigorous coursework.

“To hold those students accountable to that higher level of college rigor is something that is really valuable for high school students,” she said.

Some people have a perception that trades might not pay as much as if they had gone on to college, but that is not true, Young said. There are teenagers making $50,000-$60,000 a year with their welding certificates, and CTE programs give students “a strong foothold to grow from,” Young said.

A 2022 study from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce shows an increasing number of people without a bachelor’s degree are out-earning those who do have a four-year degree.

Jennifer Akins, MISD’s senior director of guidance and counseling, said school counselors have told her students are interested in earning credentials while still in high school.

She said seeing a need in certain industries has led to additional partnerships with Collin College.

“That was one of the direct reasons that we partnered with Colin [College] to add the real estate program, because we were seeing so much need in those areas,” she said.

Collin College recognizes that some students are ready for the workforce right after high school, and others are college bound, Millen said. Partnering with the CTE and dual-credit programs with local districts helps students succeed, which in turn helps the workforce, she said.

Collin College has increased its opportunities for CTE-based programs, opening four new campuses during the COVID-19 pandemic, including its technical education center in Allen. This also indicates the demand for programs like these, not just from students, but also from employers, Millen said.

Peirson said the world is changing so rapidly that teachers are having to prepare students for careers that might not even exist yet.

“That’s what I’m excited about,” she said. “I know that every year we’re looking for things that we can do to keep our kids more in tune with what’s going on in the world and to prepare them for careers.”

Eric Weilbacher contributed to this report.