Bringing Clarity to a Critical Statewide Workforce System
Indiana’s early vocational training effort was so far ahead of its time that it served as a model for federal programs. After decades of expansion, shifting needs, and uneven growth across the 49 Career and Technical Education (CTE) Districts, Indiana’s standard-setting system had become opaque. Whether it was accomplishing its important mission was difficult, at best, to determine.
About Career and Technical Education in Indiana
Career and Technical Education (CTE) prepares youth and adults for a wide range of high-wage, high-skill, in-demand careers. CTE’s mission is to ensure an education system of high quality and equity for the academic achievement and career preparation of all Indiana students.
Students in Indiana’s secondary CTE programs will gain the knowledge, skills, and abilities they need for success in postsecondary education and for economically viable career opportunities.
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CTE is delivered at the local level with funding from state and federal sources. As a result, there is no standard model through which CTE is delivered. Outcomes and outputs vary widely depending on specific areas of study. Multiple agencies play a role in its administration at the state level. And at the local level, CTE is delivered by CTE districts, which are groups of school corporations that have joined together to offer training.
Given the complexity of CTE administration, determining whether the state was maximizing its return on investment presented a daunting challenge, as did understanding whether students and businesses received the program’s desired benefits.
Because of the multitude of funding sources and administrative agencies involved, leaders had a hard time discerning whether a course met its desired outcome; it was entirely possible for a course to meet the guidelines and bring funds into the District but fail to meet a need in the community.
For example, cosmetology may be cost-effective as an offering, but should it be incentivized during a period where the state faces a critical shortage of industrial mechanics? CTE is an important element of the workforce landscape and one of few funding streams that span K-12, post-secondary, and adult education—all of which contributes to CTE’s being one of the least fully understood but most potentially valuable systems.
Thinking strategically about the structure of CTE and its return on investment became a priority for the state. First, leaders and policymakers needed to understand as much as possible about how the system functioned.
With support from the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation, the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership (CICP) engaged Resultant to provide insight into Indiana’s CTE system.
Initial Pain Points for CTE
Resultant served several roles within the project. We were brought in for our data expertise but also for our experience within the workforce and education sectors and especially because a neutral perspective was essential for finding clarity within a wide-ranging, political system that involved a dizzying number of stakeholders—often with opposing interests.
Before we could understand the current state of CTE administration, curriculum, and funding sources and uses, we needed to understand CTE’s history. Only after conducting that research could we determine where to focus efforts for fact-finding and data analysis to provide productive insight.
Our discovery period included document review and interviews not just with experts who’d studied the system but with individuals who had been involved at every level. We talked with people who had participated in Indiana’s CTE programming, agency staff of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development (DWD) and the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE), current and former CTE District directors, program instructors, current and former school system superintendents, principals, administrators, students, teachers, and employers.
Even creating transparency within the system would go a long way toward improving strategy and ROI. Our research enabled us to uncover trends in class offerings and tie them to funding and per-student costs as well as program value for students in terms of wages.
After we understood the history of the program and the perspectives of the myriad individuals associated with CTE, we could begin to dig into the data. Indiana has made significant progress in recent years around the collection and use of multi-agency data.
To best understand the state of CTE in Indiana, we needed to bring together multiple datasets. The State of Indiana Management Performance Hub (MPH) maintains a growing warehouse of connected education and workforce data to help inform related policy decisions and facilitated access to datasets originating from IDOE, DWD, Commission for Higher Education, and Governor’s Workforce Cabinet.
Within a sprawling and ever-changing system, finding answers starts with simply collecting the facts.
The long history of CTE in Indiana meant, not surprisingly, that not only was there a mountain of data but that it reflected some entrenched ideologies and procedures that had outlived their usefulness. We helped to create an objective, comprehensive, and meaningful compendium of information to reveal gaps in program data and opportunities for improvement.
Our in-depth report on CTE’s history, administration, funding, and curriculum provided the neutral recounting of facts that might not have been possible from within the system. It gives leaders and policymakers the information they need to effect the change that the whole state is invested in.
Indiana’s CTE system plays a vital role for schools, students, and employers. A new, more thorough understanding of how that system functions at every level provides stakeholders the facts they need to determine where the program can go—and to meet new challenges like remote learning and an evolving statewide economy. That clarity has informed decisions about structure and course incentives to facilitate greater effectiveness for CTE, improving outcomes for the citizens it serves.