New study identifies gaps and opportunities in Northwest Arkansas’ CTE pathways

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 808 views 

A new report commissioned by the Walton Family Foundation in Bentonville highlights Northwest Arkansas’ top-performing schools in career and technical education (CTE). It provides recommendations for advancing those programs and better aligning workforce needs and K-12 education opportunities in Northwest Arkansas.

According to a news release, Northwest Arkansas school districts offer a range of CTE courses for students to pursue based on their interests, including robotics and automation, machining and welding.

The consulting firm Insightful Education Solutions analyzed CTE pathway offerings to better understand the quality and accessibility of the programs.

“High-quality CTE programs lead to advancement and increase economic mobility when they align with regional economic needs,” said Katherine Robinson, Walton Family Foundation program officer. “They also provide K-12 students with the knowledge, skills and credentials they need for future success.

“The report shows enthusiasm from industry and education partners and presents shared solutions that benefit the entire region.”

Insightful convened an advisory group and researched best practices from other states to form a shared definition of high-quality CTE pathways.

According to the release, the findings confirmed a significant misalignment between workforce needs and completion of the related program. The top five completed K-12 CTE pathways in Northwest Arkansas are in the agricultural field.  Just three of the region’s top 10 completed CTE pathways align with high-demand, high-skill and higher-wage occupations.

Additional findings include:

  • Healthcare, business management and manufacturing are the top three industry sectors in Northwest Arkansas. with the most projected growth in the next five years.
  • Too few CTE completers are meeting pathway quality metrics. These metrics vary widely across the most completed programs of study. Early postsecondary credits are the most achieved. But overall quality metric attainment by CTE completers is still relatively low.
  • There is overwhelming enthusiasm and support for CTE despite challenges in alignment and quality. There is also a desire for more diverse and better offerings.
  • Obstacles to overcome include logistical challenges, shortage of qualified staff and a lack of adequate program funding. 100% of educators surveyed believe CTE is as important as math, English, social studies and science.

Insightful recommends Northwest Arkansas leaders focus on building out CTE programming in healthcare, advanced manufacturing, marketing/distribution/logistics, building and construction, business management, administration and education and training.

“Developing consistent regional CTE pathways will require cross-sector communication, shared resources, economies of scale and a common understanding of needs from industry leaders,” Robinson said.

Click here for a PDF of the report.