CTE Student Organizations. ERIC Digest.
by Brown, Bettina Lankard
Student organizations have been established to support and enhance learning
in many career-technical fields: Future Farmers of America (FFA), agriculture;
Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), business; Distributive Education
Clubs of America (DECA), marketing; Technology Student Association (TSA),
technology; and Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA), allied health.
These organizations provide opportunities for leadership development, service
learning, and career exploration. Students, teachers, and parents expect
that membership in these organizations will result in learning and enhanced
skills as well as the development of positive values, social skills, and
an ability to work independently and collaboratively (Vaughn, Kieth, and
Lockaby 1999; Williams 2001). It is the anticipation of these academic,
professional, and career-related benefits, as well as opportunities for
friendship and belonging, that lead many young people to become members
of career and technical education (CTE) student organizations. Intended
for CTE educators, this Digest reviews research on outcomes students have
realized from membership in these organizations and describes how the organizations
are changing as CTE evolves.
OUTCOMES OF PARTICIPATION IN CTE STUDENT ORGANIZATIONS
A major research study was conducted by Purdue University comparing
agricultural education students to the "typical high school student," as
quantified in THE STATE OF OUR NATION'S YOUTH (Reese 2001). The Purdue
study showed outcomes for students who participated in FFA, a CTE student
organization with about 450,000 members (Stagg and Stuller 1999). Because
all career-technical student organizations share similar goals for membership
and participation, the outcomes of the Purdue study serve as the basis
for this discussion, focusing on four major outcome areas: scholarship,
motivation, professional development, and citizenship.
Key findings of the Purdue study showed that students involved in FFA
are more enthusiastic about and attach greater value to their school studies
than do average students. The FFA students also are more actively engaged
in school activities, more likely than the average student to relate personal
effort to success, and more likely to prepare for postsecondary studies
and attend two-year and four-year colleges (Reese 2001).
One reason CTE student organizations inspire scholarship is that the
school-business partnerships that characterize these organizations connect
school learning to its application in the workplace. Minorities in Agriculture,
National Resources, and Related Sciences (MANRRS) is one such national
student organization that is committed to fostering partnerships between
minority students in agriculture and national resources and professionals
from academia, government, and business. Through MANRRS membership, students
are able to network with more than 50 governmental, private industry, and
educational entities. Studies showed that college freshmen and upperclass
students who participated in MANRRS in 1993-94 (mostly African Americans
and Hispanics), "had a 70% graduation rate within 6 years compared to a
56% average projected graduation rate for these groups for the entire university.
Fifty-three percent graduated in 4 years or less; 3% graduated in 5 years
of less; and 87% had received degrees by August 1998" (Talbert, Larke,
and Jones 1999, p. 5).
Students who become members of CTE student organizations are inspired
to join because their peers or family members have recommended membership,
they desire to participate in career-related activities and competitions,
and they want to connect with other students who share common career interests.
This motivation for membership appears to nurture a motivation for learning.
According to the Purdue study, "83 percent of FFA students consider their
agriculture courses to be exciting, interesting, and challenging as compared
to only 32% of typical students. These students are also more likely to
believe the amount of work they do in school is important to their success
later in life and more likely to believe it is important to do their best
in all of their classes" (Reese 2001, p. S17).
A positive attitude about the benefits of CTE student organizations
often occurs as a result of the testimonials of other members of the organization.
For example, Katrina Miller's decision to join the Technology Student Association
was influenced by a former TSA president who spoke at a TSA Fall Leadership
Conference. "She told us about the TSA offices she had won and her achievements
in TSA competitions. She was so poised and passionate, and I knew right
then that if she could do these things, I could too" (Miller and Meuleners
2000, p. 24.).
Many students join CTE student organizations because they believe membership
experiences and competitions will prepare them for employment in their
chosen careers. Membership appears to enhance students' self-confidence
in this regard. Eighty-nine percent of FFA students believe they can realize
success in their chosen career area (Reese 2001). These students also have
more specific career goals and are more likely to work while in high school,
which serves to enhance their professional development.
Through participation in CTE student organizations' national conferences
and competitions, students gain valuable professional experience. "In 2000,
over 125 students traveled to national conferences to compete in contests,
network with business people and peers, and learn information that is vital
to their futures" (Wills 2000, p. 44). These activities give students opportunities
to apply their evolving communication, leadership, and networking skills.
Businesses that support CTE student organizations become involved as
a way to ensure that their employment needs will be met by the future generation
of workers. The heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration
industry, for example, supports the Skills USA-Vocational Industrial Clubs
of America (VICA) by enlisting companies to donate equipment for national
competitions and provide employees to serve as judges. In this way, the
industry has a vehicle for introducing students to its equipment and ensuring
that schools connect academic learning with the skill demands of the workplace.
This gives businesses an opportunity to have a hand in shaping potential
employees; at the same time, the competitions afford professional benefits
to the students. The gold medalist of the 1997 Skills USA-VICA competition,
for example, was able to train at the Carrier company's Bynum Education
Center in Syracuse, New York. He trained one on one with a Carrier worker
and "Carrier picked up the cost of his airfare and accommodations" (Siegel
2001, p. 42).
Research shows that students who are members of youth organizations
are more actively engaged in community as well as school activities. The
Purdue study found that 90 percent of FFA members participate in school
and community activities (Reese 2001). Another study revealed that students
involved with student organizations were more likely to be involved in
community affairs and organizations, school organizations, and church (Leventhal
1999). Activities for linking CTE student organizations with the community
include job shadowing, service projects, student-organized field trips,
employer-employee banquets, and alumni-student gatherings (Miller 1997).
HOW ORGANIZATIONS ARE CHANGING AS CTE EVOLVES
Student organizations will not be successful in the future unless they
can motivate new students to join and participate in the activities. Two
primary ways that CTE student organizations can achieve this goal are to
(1) make their focus more relevant to today's workplace and (2) strive
to recruit a diverse student population.
Society has undergone many changes since the inception of most CTE student
organizations and these changes influence how and where people work. When
the FFA was started in 1928, for example, people were leaving farming communities
and migrating to the cities. The organization was initiated as a way to
keep vocational agriculture in the public school system and offer the typically
white, rural youth a means of improving their farming production skills
and developing a sense of self-worth and recognition for their accomplishments
so they would remain in agriculture (Vaughn et al. 1999). Today, there
are fewer and fewer family farms and a decreasing number of youth have
family ties to production agriculture (Igo and White 1999).
To be viable today, CTE student organizations must be designed to satisfy
the primary need of today's students--improving their employment potential
in a technologically oriented workplace. They must draw their members'
interests toward areas that offer job potential, e.g., in agriculture,
it is important to provide opportunities that extend beyond agriculture
production to business, communication, agriscience, and technology as applied
in the agriculture industry (Gliem and Gliem 2000).
Other changes in society relate to work force composition. Today the
workplace is composed of people with varied ethnic and economic backgrounds.
Igo and White (1999) note that future generations of students involved
in agriculture will not be from the typical rural areas, but from urban
communities. To thrive, CTE student organizations must recruit students
from these areas and from the various cultures they represent. In a study
conducted to learn the characteristics of students enrolled in agricultural
education who elected not to join FFA (Stagg and Stuller 1999), it was
found that non-FFA members included significantly more Asians, African
Americans, and Hispanics. This reflection of selective membership may be
one reason that, of the over 800,000 students involved in agricultural
education, only 450,000 are FFA members. CTE student organizations need
to find ways to attract all students by providing and emphasizing benefits
that membership will afford them, both personally and professionally.
The recruitment of diverse members should also include students with
disabilities. Ploss, Field, and Frick (1996) describe youth with disabilities
who have participated in CTE student organizations. One female student
who was blind participated fully in FFA. The authors describe her enthusiasm
for belonging to FFA and participating in its national competitions. They
note that she was so professional and well spoken that the audience and
often the judges were not aware that she was visually impaired.
Students can also promote membership in CTE student organizations by
sharing with a diverse array of their peers the personal benefits they
have realized through membership: For example, Rich Klein reports that
"because of VICA, I did a lot of advanced study in my field" (Siegel 2001,
p. 5). Katrina Miller notes that "through my TSA experiences I have learned
to be confident in my abilities and move forward in my career goals" (Miller
and Meuleners 2000, p. 24). Testimonials like these can be strong motivators
for students who have little or no background in student organizations.
Young people have a variety of needs that must be met if they are to
become mature, responsible, caring, and informed individuals. CTE student
organizations provide a variety of opportunities that will help students
in these areas. However, to be effective in the future, these organizations
must recruit and embrace a more diverse membership and introduce members
to occupations as they exist today.
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