The next generation of CTE in Colorado

By Sarah Heath

The Colorado Community College System is creating a new vision for career and technical education.

As Colorado’s population and economy continues to boom, employer demand for skilled workers is at an all-time high. Career and technical education (CTE) is filling that gap by combining career education with application to provide a workforce that is better prepared upon graduation. During the 2017-2018 academic year alone, Colorado awarded 21,615 postsecondary CTE certificates and associate degrees.

Colorado’s CTE operations are housed within Colorado Community College System (CCCS). This is a unique setup that allows us to leverage the internal resources of an educational system while reaching students earlier and more efficiently, from middle school to high school and through higher education and into the workforce.

Despite the success we have seen with CTE in Colorado, community feedback has been clear: there is still a need for more career development for all generations of learners.

The Next Gen Ed process

Last October, CCCS began the process of developing a statewide strategic plan for CTE that considers the state’s unique landscape and opportunities over the next five years. Branded “Next Gen Ed,” the plan is part of an initiative to strengthen Colorado communities using CTE. It will provide a new direction for the role of CTE – not just as academic and technical preparation, but as a complete and robust experience that prepares learners for their career, life and civic leadership.

Across the state, we are hosting visioning sessions with business and industry leaders, community members and parents to understand how we can work together to provide an education for students that meets future workforce needs. Some of the topics being discussed include career development, perceptions of CTE, work-based learning and transitioning from postsecondary education to the workforce.

We also are participating in a program approval review using Advance CTE’s benchmarking tool so that our programs are better aligned to what we are hearing from business and industry leaders during our visioning sessions. This will ensure our CTE programming is high quality and leads to high-wage, high-skill, in-demand jobs.

Building the workforce of the future

After community feedback has been collected, the new CTE vision and strategic plan will emerge. Implementation is expected to take place from summer 2019 through April 2020. Our hope is CTE will drive the state’s education, workforce and economic priorities. We want our students to view CTE as more than just a way to develop technical skills. Rather, we want all students regardless of interest to be better prepared to enter the workforce and beyond. In turn, we know this will contribute to stronger communities and will benefit future generations.

To learn more about CTE in Colorado and to stay up to date on the visioning process, visit

Sarah Heath

is state director for CTE and associate vice chancellor at the Colorado Community College System.