Not offered only by county vocational schools, as most would think, courses and programs devoted to Career and Technical Education - or CTE - have become a more popular and widespread option at traditional high schools throughout New Jersey.

They're designed to offer students in-depth training on a specific skill they may pursue in college or on the job right out of high school.

According to the latest numbers from the state Department of Education, there are 1,000 or so of these specialty programs in the state, offered either at a county's vocational facility or right on the campus of a New Jersey high school.

The programs are broken down into 16 clusters, such as architecture & construction, finance, health science and human services. Those clusters are divided into hyper-focused programs from school to school.

Karen Hicks, supervisor of Career and Technical Education at Old Bridge High School, said the school currently has nine CTE programs approved by the state. With that approval, programs typically conclude with a related credential for the industry or earned college credits.

"We've had very positive feedback from our students that go on to college," Hicks said.

Hicks noted 96 percent of the high school's students go to college, a trade school or the military following graduation. And these programs give students "an extra edge in life."

The classic CTE program is delivered through three courses over three years. And leaving campus is no longer required for students to get a hands-on, real-world experience in the classroom.

Treats created by students of the Culinary Arts/Hospitality Management Academy at Freehold Regional High School. (Freehold Regional High School District)

Freehold Regional High School, for example, has a fully-operational kitchen and restaurant on site for its culinary program students.

"They don't look like classrooms," said Dr. Jeff Moore, director of curriculum and instruction for the Freehold Regional High School District. "Our culinary academy looks like a restaurant. Our medical science laboratories look like real laboratories."

In neighboring Jackson, four programs are offered at the two high schools. The district is looking to expand that number in the future.

According to the latest school performance numbers from the state, about 18 percent of all high school students are taking at least one course in an approved CTE program. About 46,000 of the 77,000 participating students are doing so at a traditional high school.

"The kinds of programs have kind of shifted over time, which is good," said Marie Barry of the state's Office of Career Readiness. "We need to be able to be sure we’re preparing our students for the current and emerging careers of the future."

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