[co-author: Gautham Ganesan - Franczek Radelet LEADS Fellow]
On June 15, 2016, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in conjunction with the Department’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) issued a Dear Colleague Letter (“Letter”) addressing gender equity in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs offered by schools. The Letter stresses that all federally funded schools must ensure equitable access, regardless of gender, to CTE programs by eliminating discriminatory practices and taking steps to expand participation of students in fields such as nursing, IT, and computer science where individuals of one sex might be underrepresented. CTE programs are defined in essence by the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 (Perkins Act) as organized educational activities that offer courses which provide individuals with relevant technical knowledge and skills needed to prepare for careers in current or emerging professions and which provide technical skill proficiency, an industry-recognized credential, a certificate, or an associate degree.
In the Letter, OCR and OCTAE clarify that disproportionate gender enrollment in a CTE program alone does not constitute a violation of federal law but stress that schools receiving federal funding must (1) conduct their admission, recruitment, and counseling practices in a nondiscriminatory manner and (2) respond to disproportionate gender enrollment by reviewing their policies and practices. The Letter provides recommendations and practical examples to help schools address potential underrepresentation in CTE programs, including the following:
Schools with CTE programs should take this opportunity to review their recruitment, admissions, and counseling practices and materials to ensure not only that their methods are not contributing to disproportionate gender enrollment in CTE programs but that they also are taking steps to rectify any disproportionate enrollment in their CTE programs. Moreover, schools should ensure that their Title IX Coordinator is adequately equipped to identify and address unlawful discrimination in their CTE programs and to take proactive steps to improve equitable access, participation and outcomes for CTE students, regardless of sex.