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Career and Technical Education (CTE) | CTE Career Clusters | Texas

What are the Texas Career Clusters and CTE Programs of Study?

July 30th, 2021 | 11 min. read

Mike Cescon

Mike Cescon

With past experience in teaching, a couple of degrees in writing, and an upbringing immersed in medical jargon, Mike is positioned well to hear out the most common questions teachers ask about the AES curriculum. His goal is to write content that quickly and effectively answers these questions so you can back to what matters - teaching your students.

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As a career and technical education instructor, you know that CTE is found all across the United States -- in every state and most school districts.

On the national level, CTE is made up of 16 career clusters, which all have a varying number of career pathways. Every state uses the national clusters and pathways as foundations for their own CTE regulations, but they also make some changes to better fit the needs of their state.

Though Texas is one of the most straightforward states when it comes to career clusters and pathways, they’ve made some important changes for the 2020/2021 school year that you should be aware of if you want to stay on top of things. 

In this article, we’ll dive into the 14 Texas CTE career clusters to give you a better understanding of each and recent updates they’ve had:

  1. Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources
  2. Architecture and Construction
  3. Arts, Audio/Video Technology, and Communications
  4. Business, Marketing, and Finance
  5. Education and Training
  6. Energy
  7. Health Science
  8. Hospitality and Tourism
  9. Human Services
  10. Information Technology
  11. Law and Public Service
  12. Manufacturing 
  13. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics
  14. Transportation, Distribution, and Logistics

By the end of this article, you’ll have the most up-to-date information on what the Texas career clusters are and how they’ve changed.

An Overview of Texas Career and Technical Education

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The Texas Education Agency (TEA) specifically wants to help educators “provide high quality career and technical programs for students.”

To accomplish this, all Texas CTE courses have specific Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards, which students must successfully meet. The TEKS standards are frequently reviewed to keep up with changes in different industries and ensure students are prepared for their future careers.

Depending on the career cluster and pathway a student chooses, they may need to pass an industry certification exam in order to work in the field, which also plays a role in what they have to learn.

In addition to the courses and certification programs, students interested in pursuing a career in one of the clusters can choose to join a career and technical student organization (CTSO).

One of the most important changes Texas has recently made is the reduction of their number of career clusters. Texas no longer has 16 career clusters, but has reduced that number to 14 by combining certain clusters together. 

Now that you know the basics of CTE in Texas, let’s talk about the 14 career clusters!

1. Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources

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In Texas, the Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources (AFNR) career cluster is focused on “the essential elements of life -- food, water, land, and air.”

The AFNR cluster now includes these six pathways:

  1. Agribusiness
  2. Animal Science
  3. Applied Agricultural Engineering
  4. Environmental and Natural Resources
  5. Food Science and Technology
  6. Plant Science

Within those pathways, there are around 30 courses in the Texas AFNR career cluster.

At the national level, the CTSO open for students in the AFNR cluster is the National FFA Organization. Students in Texas can join the Texas FFA, which is a state-specific version of the national association.

2. Architecture and Construction

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The Architecture & Construction career cluster prepares students for careers that involve designing, planning, managing, building, or maintaining a built structure.

In Texas, the cluster currently has seven pathways:

  1. Architectural Design
  2. Carpentry
  3. Construction Management and Inspection
  4. Electrical
  5. HVAC and Sheet Metal
  6. Masonry
  7. Plumbing and Pipefitting

Within those pathways, there are more than 30 courses for students to choose from. All students start by taking Principles of Architecture to get an overview of the various careers available and help them decide which pathway to pursue.

Unlike the AFNR career cluster, there are not specific CTSOs for students in Architecture & Construction. However, the TEA suggests that students consider joining SkillsUSA Texas or the Texas Technology Student Association (TSA).

3. Arts, Audio/Video Technology, and Communications

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Students in the Arts, A/V Technology, & Communications (AAVTC) career cluster can now choose one of two pathways related to arts, design, journalism, and entertainment services:

  1. Design and Multimedia Arts
  2. Digital Communications

Though divided into only two pathways, each of them is quite broad, and there are more than 40 courses to choose from in the cluster.

Like the Architecture & Construction cluster, there is no dedicated CTSO for the AAVTC cluster, but students can choose to join SkillsUSA Texas or the Texas TSA.

4. Business, Marketing, and Finance

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In Texas, the Business, Marketing, and Finance cluster is a new addition, created by combining the Marketing and Finance clusters with the Business Management cluster. 

This cluster is dedicated to teaching students about “careers in planning, organizing, directing, and evaluating business functions", and is made up of four pathways:

  1. Accounting and Financial Services
  2. Business Management
  3. Entrepreneurship
  4. Marketing and Sales

Within those pathways, students will find more than 30 courses, with the most common one being Business Information Management I.

In terms of CTSOs, students in this cluster have three great options: Texas Business Professionals of America (Texas BPA), Texas Future Business Leaders of America - Phi Beta Lambda (Texas FBLA-PBL), and Texas DECA.

5. Education and Training

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The Education and Training career cluster prepares students for careers in public education or training and support services.

Because this cluster is so specialized compared to some of the others, these courses are now divided across only two pathways, with 5 courses available:

  1. Early Learning
  2. Teaching and Training

The TEA lists two CTSOs that closely align with the Education & Training cluster: Texas Family, Career, & Community Leaders of America (Texas FCCLA) and the Texas Association of Future Educators (Texas TAFE).

6. Energy

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The Energy career cluster is an entirely new cluster that has been added with the 2020/2021 update.

This cluster prepares students for careers in designing, planning, maintaining, transmitting, and distributing traditional and alternative energy, and is divided into two programs of study:

  1. Oil and Gas Exploration and Production
  2. Refining and Chemical Processes

There are 15 courses available to choose from in the Energy cluster, including introductory courses like Foundations of Energy. 

7. Health Science

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The Health Science career cluster trains students in providing therapeutic services, diagnostics services, health informatics, and biotechnology research and development. It is currently divided into six pathways:

  1. Exercise Science and Wellness
  2. Health Informatics
  3. Healthcare Diagnostics
  4. Healthcare Therapeutic
  5. Medical Therapy
  6. Nursing Science

With the expansion of the health science career pathways, you'll find 33 health science courses in Texas.

The CTSO dedicated to the Health Science cluster is the Texas Health Occupations Students of America organization (Texas HOSA).

8. Hospitality and Tourism

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The Hospitality and Tourism cluster specializes in teaching students the management, marketing, and operations of restaurants, lodging, attractions, and travel-related services. It is currently divided into three pathways:

  1. Culinary Arts
  2. Lodging and Resort Management
  3. Travel, Tourism, and Attractions

Unlike the Health Science cluster, there are no specific CTSOs for Hospitality & Tourism. However, students can choose one of the more general organizations such as Texas FCCLA, Texas DECA, or SkillsUSA Texas.

9. Human Services

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In Texas, the Human Services career cluster prepares individuals for careers in counseling, mental health services, family and community services, personal care services, and more. It is now divided into two pathways:

  1. Family and Community Services
  2. Health and Services

There are no dedicated CTSOs for this cluster, but the TEA recommends that interested students join Texas FCCLA or SkillsUSA Texas.

10. Information Technology

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The Information Technology (IT) career cluster prepares students for careers involved in creating and managing hardware, software, and digital media.

The IT cluster in Texas currently includes three pathways:

  1. Information Technology Support and Services
  2. Networking Systems
  3. Web Development

There are more than a dozen courses in Texas related to careers in IT, with Principles of Information Technology being one of the most popular.

A good CTSO for students in the IT cluster to join is the Texas TSA.

11. Law and Public Service

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The Law and Public Service cluster is a new addition, created by combining the Government cluster with the Law and Public Safety cluster. 

This cluster specializes in planning, managing, and providing legal, public safety, and protective services. It is divided into four pathways:

  1. Emergency Services
  2. Government and Public Administration
  3. Law Enforcement
  4. Legal Studies

This cluster doesn’t have a specific CTSO, but the TEA suggests that interested students join SkillsUSA Texas.

12. Manufacturing

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The Manufacturing career cluster prepares students for careers related to different areas of production, including the processing of materials into final products, or the maintenance of final products.

In Texas, there are three current career cluster pathways:

  1. Advanced Manufacturing and Machinery Mechanics
  2. Manufacturing Technology
  3. Welding

As with some of the other career clusters in Texas, there are no dedicated CTSOs for students in the Manufacturing cluster. However, they can choose to join SkillsUSA Texas.

13. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics

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The Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics (STEM) focuses on teaching skills on scientific research, professional and technical services, and more. The cluster is made up of five pathways:

  1. Biomedical Science
  2. Cybersecurity
  3. Engineering
  4. Programming and Software Development
  5. Renewable Energy

Students in the STEM cluster who are interested in joining a CTSO can choose between the Texas TSA and SkillsUSA Texas.

14. Transportation, Distribution, and Logistics

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The Transportation, Distribution, & Logistics (TDL) career cluster prepares students for careers related to “planning, management, and movement of people, materials, and goods” by various methods.

The cluster in Texas is now made of four pathways:

  1. Automotive
  2. Aviation Maintenance
  3. Diesel and Heavy Equipment
  4. Distribution and Logistics

There are more than 20 courses to choose from in the TDL cluster, including entry courses like Introduction to Transportation Technology. 

There are no CTSOs dedicated to the TDL cluster, but the TEA recommends that students join either SkillsUSA Texas or the Texas TSA.

How to Keep Your CTE Students Engaged

No matter what cluster or pathway you teach, keeping your students engaged is essential to maintaining enrollment numbers and ensuring students have success in their career field.

However, many Texas CTE teachers feel they have to spend hours and hours and sacrifice their personal lives to create unique and exciting course material that will grab their students’ attention. 

You’re not alone in feeling this. But there are easier ways to engage your students. 

If student disinterest is a problem you’re facing, check out this guide on methods you can use to grab student focus and make sure they’re engaging fully with your course material:

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