Critical Success Factors in a High School Healthcare Education Program

Rebecca A. Thessin, Ellen Scully-Russ, Daina S. Lieberman


Research has demonstrated career and technical education (CTE) programs have a strong positive influence on secondary students’ behavior, attendance, academic achievement, and college persistence.  Critical success factors common to career academies, small schools, and CTE programs include socio-emotional support and community, along with a culture of high expectations and student engagement.  Yet little research has been conducted on social and cultural factors involved in these programs’ success.  This qualitative study focused on one high school healthcare education program in the Mid-Atlantic to identify the social and cultural critical success factors that contributed to successful student outcomes.  Through classroom observations; interviews with administrators, teachers, partners, program graduates, and parents; surveys of graduates; and focus groups with current students, the following critical success factors emerged: learning environment and community, focused student support, engagement through a real-world context, and a culture of professionalism.  These findings may help educators and districts focus their attention and efforts on the critical factors that impact student success as they seek to expand and improve CTE programs.


career and technical education, healthcare careers, school culture

Full Text:



Ancess, J., & Allen, D. (2006). Implementing small theme high schools in New York City: Great intentions and great tensions. Harvard Educational Review, 76(3), 401-416.

Barnett, E. A., & Bragg, D. D. (2006). Academic pathways and increased opportunities for underserved students: Crosscutting themes and lessons learned. New Directions for Community Colleges, 2006(135), 101-107.

Barrow, L., Schanzenbach, D. W., & Claessens, A. (2015). The impact of Chicago’s small high school initiative. Journal of Urban Economics, 87, 100-113.

Bennett, J. V. (2007). Work-based learning and social support: Relative influences on high school seniors’ occupational engagement orientations. Career & Technical Education Research, 32(3), 187-214.

Bloom, H. S., & Unterman, R. (2013). Sustained progress: New findings about the effectiveness and operation of small public high schools of choice in New York City. Retrieved from:

Bloom, H. S., & Unterman, R. (2014). Can small high schools of choice improve educational prospects for disadvantaged students? Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 33(2), 290-319.

Brand, B. (2008). Supporting high quality career and technical education through federal and state policy. In Washington, DC: American Youth Policy Forum. Retrieved from

Castellano, M., Stone III, J. R., Stringfield, S., Farley-Ripple, E. N., Overman, L. T., & Hussain, R. (2007). Career-Based Comprehensive School Reform: Serving Disadvantaged Youth in Minority Communities. National Research Center for Career and Technical Education. Retrieved from:

Castellano, M., Sundell, K., Overman, L. T., & Aliaga, O. A. (2012). Do career and technical education programs of study improve student achievement? Preliminary analyses from a rigorous longitudinal study. International Journal of Educational Reform, 21(2), 98-118.

Chase, E., Goodin, P., & Nichols, W. R. (2006). Preparing students for the job market: An evaluation of one district’s efforts. ERS Spectrum, 24(1), 18-22.

Coker, J. S., & Porter, D. J. (2015). Maximizing experiential learning for student success. Change, 47(1), 66-72. doi:10.1080/00091383.2015.996101

Creswell, J. W., & Poth, C. N. (2018). Qualitative inquiry & research design: Choosing among five approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

CTE Policy Watch Blog (2017). Retrieved from:

Dixon, M., Cotner, B., Wilson, T. N., & Borman, K. (2011). Implementing career academies in Florida: A case study approach to understanding successes and obstacles. Career and Technical Education Research, 36(3), 207-227.

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Retrieved from

Farr, B., Bradby, D., Hartry, A., Sipes, L., Hall, L., & Tasoff, S. (2009). Evaluation of the demonstration sites in the ConnectEd Network. MPR Associates, Inc. Retrieved from

Feller, R. W. (2003). Aligning school counseling, the changing workplace, and career development assumptions. Professional School Counseling, 6(4), 262-271.

Fine, M. (2005). Not in our name: Reclaiming the democratic vision of small school reform. Rethinking Schools, 19, 11-14.

Fletcher Jr., E. C., & Cox, E. D. (2012). Exploring the meaning African American students ascribe to their participation in high school career academies and the challenges they experience. The High School Journal, 96(1), 4-19.

Hanson, J. M., Prusha, T., & Iverson, C. (2015). Principal, teacher, and counselor views of Concurrent Enrollment. New Directions for Community Colleges, 2015(169), 71-81.

Hoachlander, G. (2008). Bringing industry to the classroom. Educational Leadership, 65(8), 22.

Howard, D. & Wu, P. (2009). Assessing California’s multiple pathways field: Preparing youth for success in college and career.

The James Irvine Foundation Focus, May 2009.

The James Irvine Foundation. (2009). Making Progress through California multiple pathways: Findings from the ConnectEd Network of Schools evaluation 2007-2008. Insight, September 2009.

Kahne, J. E., Sporte, S. E., De La Torre, M., & Easton, J. Q. (2008). Small high schools on a larger scale: The impact of school conversions in Chicago. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 30(3), 281-315. doi:10.3102/0162373708319184

Kanny, M. A. (2015). Dual enrollment participation from the student perspective. New Directions for Community Colleges, 2015(169), 59-70.

Karadag, E., Kilicoglu, G., & Yilmaz, D. (2014). Organizational Cynicism, School Culture, and Academic Achievement: The Study of Structural Equation Modeling. Educational Sciences: Theory and Practice, 14(1), 102-113.

Kemple, J. J. (2004). Career Academies: Impacts on Labor Market Outcomes and Educational Attainment. MDRC.

Kitchel, A. (2015). An examination of the contribution of career and technical education to STEM education, student leadership, and career readiness. Journal for Research in Business Education, 57(1), 18-30.

Kosine, N., & Lewis, M. (2008). Growth and exploration: Career development theory and programs of study. Career and Technical Education Research, 33(3), 227-243.

Marcketti, S., & Karpova, E. (2014). Getting ready for the real world: Student perspectives on bringing industry collaboration into the classroom. Journal of Family & Consumer Sciences, 106(1), 27-31.

Mekinda, M. A. (2012). Support for career development in youth: Program models and evaluations. New Directions for Youth Development, 2012(134), 45-54.

Merriam, S. B. (2009). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Packard, B. W. L., Gagnon, J., & Moring-Parris, R. (2010). Investing in academic science for allied health students: Challenges and possibilities. Career and Technical Education Research, 35(3), 137-156.

REL Southeast. (2012). The Evidence-Based Education Request Desk at REL-SE. Retrieved from

Rivera-McCutchen, R. L. (2012). Caring in a small urban high school: A complicated success. Urban Education, 47(3), 653-680.

Roach, R., Gamez Vargas, J., & David, K. M. (2015). Eliminating barriers to dual enrollment in Oklahoma. New Directions for Community Colleges, 2015(169), 31-38.

Rodríguez, O., Hughes, K. L., & Belfield, C. (2012). Bridging college and careers: Using dual enrollment to enhance Career and Technical Education pathways. NCPR brief.

Saldana, J. (2013). The coding manual for qualitative researchers. Washington, DC: Sage Publications.

Schwartz, A. E., Stiefel, L., & Wiswall, M. (2013). Do small schools improve performance in large, urban districts? Causal evidence from New York City. Journal of Urban Economics, 77, 27-40.

Snow, A., & Okojie, M. O. (2013). An assessment of CTE programs in rural school district based on Carl Perkins academic standards and placement identifiers. International Journal of Vocational Education & Training, 21(1), 5-15.

Staklis, S., & Klein, S. (2010). Technical skill attainment and post-program outcomes: An analysis of Pennsylvania secondary Career and Technical Education graduates. National Research Center for Career and Technical Education.

Stringfield, S., Shumer, R., Stipanovic, N., & Murphy, N. (2013). Programs of study: A cross-study examination of programs in three states. International Journal of Education Reform, 22(4), 313-333.

Symonds, William C., Schwartz, R., & Ferguson, R. (2011). Pathways to prosperity: Meeting the challenge of preparing young Americans for the 21st century. Cambridge, MA: Pathways to Prosperity Project, Harvard University Graduate School of Education.

Thapa, A., Cohen, J., Guffey, S., & Higgins-D’Alessandro, A. (2013). A review of school climate research. Review of Educational Research, 83(3), 357-385.

Thessin, R., Scully-Russ, E., Hildreth, J., & Lieberman, D. (in press). Key features to inform student outcomes: Learning from a high school healthcare education program. International Journal of Educational Reform, 27(2)..

Tubbs, J. E., & Garner, M. (2008). The impact of school climate on school outcomes. Journal of College Teaching and Learning, 5(9), 17.

Yin, R. K. (1994). Case study research: Design and methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

ISSN: 1531-4952