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Report Card - Career Education

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| Progress Reports | Action Agenda | Executive Summary (AAUW web site)


Title IX has made training for non–traditional careers possible for girls and women. This option clearly was off limits to female students before 1972, when schools routinely denied girls the opportunity to take classes in shop, manufacturing, architectural drafting, or ceramics, or even to attend certain vocational schools. Girls were directed to classes where they would learn to cook and sew. Title IX's passage meant that schools no longer could shut the doors to certain courses on the basis of gender. However, 25 years later, patterns of sex segregation persist that must be addressed.

Separate and Unequal. Before Title IX, the vocational education system was predominantly sex segregated. In high school, girls took home economics and boys took shop. There was testimony during the Title IX hearings that in New York, for example, certain specialized vocational high schools were reserved for men: automotive, aviation, food, and maritime trades. At the postsecondary level, young women trained for low–wage, traditionally female jobs in health occupations and cosmetology, while young men trained for higher–wage, traditionally male jobs in trade and industry and technical occupations. Educational institutions could, and did, legally deny girls and women entry into training deemed 'inappropriate' for females.

Increasing Access to Non–traditional Areas. Title IX ended these restrictions. In addition, Congress, in 1978, during the reauthorization of vocational education legislation, required each state to hire a sex equity coordinator who would carry out functions designed to make the vocational education system more equitable and improve the access of women and girls into training from which they had previously been denied. However, except for $50,000 to support the sex equity coordinator's position, Congress provided no federal funding whatsoever to carry out these functions, although it was a permissible use of funds.

Research by the National Institute of Education in 1981 found that states spent less than one percent of all their basic grant money for support services for women seeking to enter non–traditional vocational education, displaced homemakers, and child care. Only 0.2 percent of all state and local matching funds went for these purposes. The study concluded that most states used 'paltry sums,' making only a token gesture toward providing services for displaced homemakers, and relied on 'symbolic gestures,' rather than providing real avenues for women to pursue non–traditional enrollment.

Congress changed this in 1984 during the reauthorization of vocational education by requiring states to spend a specific percentage of their basic grant money to make training opportunities available to women. Congress required each state to set aside 8.5 percent (decreased to 7 percent in 1990) for displaced homemakers, single parents, and single pregnant teens, and 3.5 percent (changed to 3 percent in 1990) for programs designed to eliminate sex bias and sex stereotyping in vocational education. Since that time, the number of programs serving displaced homemakers/single parents has grown from 435 to more than 1,300. By 1997, the number of sex equity programs numbered more than 1,400.

Success of Sex Equity Programs. More than 400,000 single parents and displaced homemakers are served each year as a result of the vocational education legislation requirements. Data show that these programs help participants increase their wages and decrease their dependence on welfare.

For example, in Florida 81 percent of participants earned incomes of less than $10,000 per year at the time of entry into a displaced homemaker/single parent program. After completing the program, the state found that 71 percent of participants were employed in Florida, earning an average income of $20,676 per year–doubling their incomes at the time of enrollment. In Arizona, a survey showed that participants' median hourly wage increased from $4.50 to $6.00, as did the median hours they worked–from 20 to 36 hours per week. Arizona also saw the percentage of participants in non–traditional jobs rise from 7 to 17 percent.

These programs have benefited not only participants, but also the states providing the services. For example, in Pennsylvania 85 percent of participants were living at or below 150 percent of the poverty level at the time of enrollment. Only 4 percent of participants were employed; 14 percent were considered underemployed; and 82 percent were unemployed. Sex equity programs resulted in increased employment, such that Pennsylvania has calculated a savings of $1,966,524 per year due solely to reductions in public assistance–a 56 percent return to the state on the total Perkins funds used for sex equity and displaced homemaker/single parent programs.

Persistent Sex Segregation. The National Assessment of Vocational Education (NAVE) in 1992 showed vocational education majors continue to be highly sex–segregated. Female students were only 23 percent of enrollees in trade and industry, but 70 percent of enrollees in health. Students concentrating on technical education are 72 percent male.

Congress enacted the School–to–Work Opportunities Act in 1994 in order to ensure that all students–male and female–acquired the education and training that would lead to high–skill, high–wage jobs and diminish the stubborn sex segregation. However, career tracks are readily identifiable by gender. In addition, little attention has been paid to ensure that School–to–Work programs truly serve all students, as the law requires. For example, School–to–Work programs identified as 'promising' by Jobs for the Future have made little progress in ensuring that sex segregation is not a problem. The Craftmanship 2000 program in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which offers a program in metalworking, is predominately male: women make up only 21 percent of enrollees. In contrast, the Kalamazoo County Health Occupations Program in Michigan is overwhelmingly comprised of women–77 percent of enrollees are female, 22 percent are male. The federal School-to-Work Office has yet to undertake a systemic effort to ensure that the state efforts to build school-to-work systems do not replicate this pattern.

Non-traditional Occupations–Key to a Living Wage. The importance of increasing women's and girls' access to non-traditional career opportunities is clear. In 1992 the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that women in these jobs earn 20 to 30 percent more than women in traditional occupations. Yet, only 6.6 percent of all working women were employed in such occupations. These jobs are of particular importance for women who are single mothers and displaced homemakers. The 1990 census data revealed that these women have higher poverty rates–42 percent for displaced homemakers and 44 percent for single mothers, compared to 11 percent for all adult householders. Still, single mothers and displaced homemakers were overrepresented in low-wage service jobs. Education level is the most important factor in determining the likelihood that displaced homemakers and single mothers will live in poverty.

Room for Improvement
  • Sex segregation persists in vocational education–men are clustered in high–skill, high–wage job tracks; women in the low–wage, traditionally female tracks.
  • New School–to–Work programs also are segregated by sex.
  • Congress is poised to eliminate programs that have encouraged women to pursue non–traditional occupations, despite their proven success in moving women to self–sufficiency.

Congress will be reauthorizing vocational education legislation in the summer of 1997. In the current climate of 'devolution,' some members of Congress have indicated they do not favor continued set-aside requirements, even in the face of data demonstrating their success. Some lawmakers also are disinclined to continue to require states to employ a full-time sex equity administrator, even though it is likely that states will discontinue these efforts altogether. Other lawmakers show some interest in continuing to require states to carry out the sex equity functions.

Grade: C


  • Congress should maintain funding levels for sex equity programs and services, including supportive services and professional development for non-traditional training, and maintain the state equity leadership position and the related functions.
  • Congress should establish a uniform data collection system for evaluating state efforts at achieving equity and accountability standards that measure progress in sex equity and establish an incentive program rewarding states that annually increase the number of students trained and placed in non-traditional careers.
  • The federal School-to-Work Office and the Departments of Labor and Education should develop strategies to ensure that recipients of School-to-Work funds are building gender equitable systems, starting with site visits to assess state efforts at serving girls, young women, as well as other underserved populations.
  • The federal School-to-Work office should develop a data collection system that tracks the numbers of women entering and pursuing non-traditional occupations. Data should be disaggregated to examine the progress of women of color.
  • The Office for Civil Rights should enforce Title IX's requirements in the School-to-Work setting as well as in vocational education, paying particular attention to addressing the causes of sex segregation, such as gender-based and sexual harassment.
  • 117 Cong. Rec. 25,507 (July 15, 1971) (Remarks of Rep. Bella Abzug).
  • ISTEA On Tap: An Advocate's Guide to Accessing Highway and Construction Money for Non–Traditional Job Training (Women Work! The National Network for Women's Employment, 1994).
  • Hilary Kopp and Richard Kazis, with Andrew Churchill, Promising Practices: A Study of Ten School–to–Career Programs (Jobs for the Future, 1995).
  • National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education, Empowering America's Families: Documenting the Success of Vocational Equity Programs for Women and Girls (1995).
  • National Women's Law Center, 'School–to–Work Equality Check: Opening Doors to High–Skill, High–Wage Careers for Young Women' (March 1997).
  • New Economic Pathways for Young Women: An Advocate's Guide to the School–to–Work Opportunities Act (Women Work! The National Network for Women's Employment, November 1994).
  • On the Rights Track: An Empowerment and Workplace Rights Curriculum (Women Work! The National Network for Women's Employment, September 1996).
  • Satisfaction Guaranteed: Women Speak Out on Displaced Homemaker and Single Parent Services (Women Work! The National Network for Women's Employment, January 1995).
  • Women Work, Poverty Persists: A Status Report on Displaced Homemakers and Single Mothers in the United States (Women Work! The National Network for Women's Employment, February 1994).



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