Posted by: Tom Ross | August 18, 2011

Career and Technical Student Organizations

The Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) released a report recently, “Expanding Career Readiness Through Career and Technical Student Organizations, ”that illustrates how students participating in career and technical student organizations (CTSOs) strengthen their career readiness through co-curricular programming in such areas as leadership development, academic and career development, professional development and community service.” More than 1.5 million students participate in a CTSO nationwide. A list of California CTSOs can be found here.

Riverside Community College winners, SkillsUSA Championship

According to ACTE’s summary of the report:

  • Students who participate in CTSOs demonstrate higher levels of academic engagement and motivation, civic engagement, career self-efficacy and employability skills than other students, and the more students participate in CTSO activities, the better the results.
  • In a study of student performance measures, FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) high school seniors significantly outperformed their non-FBLA counterparts on four performance measures: ACT scores; SAT scores; GPA; and graduation rate.
  • According to the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education, participating in leadership and professional development activities in a CTSO raises students’ educational aspirations.
  • Students who participate in school organizations in 10th grade have higher high school grade point average and are more likely to be enrolled in college at 21 than other students.

This study follows the 2007 report, Looking Inside the Black Box: The Value Added by CTSOs to Students’ High School Experience, by the National Center for Career and Technical Education at the University of Minnesota. The authors summarized the study thus:

“We hypothesized that CTSOs provide a variety of experiences that either directly or indirectly affect three important outcomes of secondary education: achievement, transition to postsecondary education and training, and employability. A pre-test/post-test comparison study of high school students in CTE classes that included a CTSO, CTE classes without a CTSO, and general non-CTE classes such as English and social studies was conducted over the course of one academic year. Findings showed that, on a variety of measures, CTSO students began the school year with similar or higher scores than the other groups of students and did not change (gain or lose) as much as did the other groups over the course of the year. With the exception of college aspirations—where students in the general classrooms reported the highest levels—the scores of the CTSO students remained higher than those of students in the other two groups on all measures.

A positive association between amount of CTSO participation and academic motivation, academic engagement, grades, career self- efficacy, college aspirations, and employability skills was also found. Finally, of the four specific organizational elements of CTSOs (leadership, community service, competitions, and professional development), competitions were found to have the most positive effects.”

The report is interesting because it tests empirically the anecdotal evidence we usually associate with this kind of study. As intriguing as these stories are, it’s reassuring to have, as they put it, rigorous research and reliable data to measure them by. (The ‘black box” is not the recording mechanism of a downed airplane but rather the concealed workings of a system that can by defined only by its inputs and outputs; you can only conjecture HOW it works by watching the result until you pry open the box, as the researchers did in this study.)

Lahainaluna High School (Maui) students competed in prestigious HOSA National Leadership Conference in Anaheim, CA in June.

I spoke with many Health Science Capacity Building grantees this summer, and the Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) events—speaking anecdotally—showcased the leadership skills their students had gained. As a crowning achievement, they proudly proclaimed their students’ wins and placements as evidence of the success of the program. In this way, a CTSO is clearly a successful motivational tool.

Here in California, some CTSOs (including HOSA) receive CTE Pathways Initiative funding. How do you collaborate with these student organizations? Do your students participate in CTSOs?


  1. Can you provide a link to a peer reviewed journal article of this research? Or at least something that describes how the research was conducted?

  2. The Journal of Family Consumer Sciences Education has several articles re: “Inside the Black Box.” You can find them here:

    Student Organization Integration: Initiatives for Positive Youth Development—The Ultimate Leadership Experience. Journal of Family Consumer Sciences Education, 27(National Teacher Standards 5), 2009

    Student Organization Integration: Comparison of Two Models for Implementing FCCLA in Teacher Preparation
    Journal of Family Consumer Sciences Education, 26(National Teacher Standards 3), 2008

    This Journal can be found here: Journal of Family Consumer Sciences Education

    The ACTE report is so new we haven’t located a peer-reviewed journal article on it yet. You might want to explore their website and begin on their Career Readiness page:

  3. […] Financial AidACT Scores Now Posted OnlineRSS Mage and LinkWheel SageThe Devils AdvocateCareer and Technical Student Organizations div.socialicons{float:left;display:block;margin-right: 10px;}div.socialicons p{margin-bottom: […]

  4. AS a HOSA Advisor in CA, I can say that HOSA is the glue that binds my HSMT students togther!

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