KingSpry Equal Access to Career Technical Programs

Department of Education Releases New Guidance for Equal Access to Career and Technical Programs

Posted on June 20th, 2016
by Dr. Kathleen Conn

On June 15, 2016, Catherine Lhamon, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights and Johan Uvin, Deputy Assistant Secretary charged with duties to supervise Career and Technical Education (CTE) and Adult Education, jointly published “new” guidelines for ensuring the equal access of students regardless of sex to the full panoply of CTE programs. The guidelines are not new in the sense of creating new obligations under the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), but rather they emphasize the sex and gender disparities in enrollment in CTE programs.   

Addressing Gender Disparities

Few women are enrolled in CTE programs for higher paying jobs like plumbing and electrical programs, while fewer men are enrolled in lower paying job programs such as childcare and nursing.

Data from the Perkins Act 2013-2014 study also pointed out gender disparities in certain non-traditional fields at a national level: females constitute less than 20 percent of students enrolled in architecture and construction, manufacturing, transportation, distribution and logistics fields, while males constitute less than 30 percent of students in fields such as health science, education, and human services.

While disproportionate enrollment of males and females in certain fields of study does not in itself establish discrimination on the basis of sex, Title IX issues may be implicated by sexual stereotyping in admissions criteria or descriptions of course offerings.

An Appendix to the Title IX Regulations specifically prohibits CTE institutions which receive federal funding from discriminating on the basis of sex, and the new guidance emphasizes that state educational agencies (SEAs) have an obligation to assist school districts with civil rights compliance in their CTE programs.

CTE Opportunities Evolve for All

According to the Pennsylvania CTE Resource Center and the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PA DOE), the Commonwealth supports approximately 85 CTE Centers and over 140 school districts offering PA DOE-approved career and technical education programs for both youth and adults. The Commonwealth’s investment in technical education, approximately $62 million in funding annually, helps prepare over 200,000 PA students for work in technical fields. The PA schools are no longer for those students who do not plan to attend college or university; CTE students can even earn dual enrollment college credits while in their CTE program courses.

Typically receiving their college readiness subjects like English and mathematics at their sending schools, CTE schools are now changing this model and offering more of the basic literacy and math skills embedded in their vocational programs. The mission of the CTE schools has changed to be one of a “BOTH/AND” approach, developing students’ college readiness skills while providing a career path.

What OCR wants to ensure is that the admissions criteria for CTE schools and playing fields within the schools are leveled, so that students of both sexes have equal access to all programs without sexual stereotyping.

To accomplish this access, OCR suggests that recruiting teams and promotional messages are representative of both sexes. Schools should also examine their admission criteria to ensure that they include course descriptions that do not perpetuate sexual stereotypes and are attractive to both males and females.

Of course, affirmative action on the basis of sex is prohibited. Counseling and student performance assessments must be gender neutral, and grievance procedures must be in place. The Title IX coordinator of the sending districts can play an important role in this area.

Finally, not only enrollment protocols but also retention protocols must be gender neutral. Marital status and/or pregnancy may not be applied as discriminatory criteria.

Bottom Line for Schools

The DCL concludes with concrete examples of acceptable and non-acceptable recruitment, admissions, and counseling practices. Creation of single-sex classes in order to increase female enrollment in what are historically regarded as male classes, e.g., automotive technology, is not an acceptable strategy.

Rather the DCL suggests that high school counselors create promotional materials for programs like the male-dominated automotive technology program that picture females along with the male students, and that automotive technology teachers be given instruction in how to make female students comfortable in classes, and how to avoid implicit and ambient bias on the basis of sex.

The DCL also indicates that Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) will release technical assistance resources that will monitor recruitment, enrollment, and persistence trends. This is OCR’s goal: that all students have open to them access to equal educational and career opportunities.

If you have any questions about Title IX or the DCL discussed in this article, consult your legal counsel or one of the Education attorneys at KingSpry.


School Law Bullets are a publication of KingSpry’s Education Law Practice Group. They are meant to be informational and do not constitute legal advice. John E. Freund, III, ( is our editor.