About This Report

Learn more about the basis and methodology for Building Better Futures for Learners: A 50-State Analysis of Area Technical Centers.


Area Technical Centers (ATCs): A Working Definition
For the purposes of this report, ATCs are defined as Career Technical Education-focused institutions that serve learners from across multiple geographies, such as school districts, educational service areas, and workforce development areas or regions. These public institutions offer secondary and sub-baccalaureate-level education and training and can serve secondary learners, postsecondary learners or both.

Working Definition of an Area Technical Center (ATC)
There is no universal definition or overarching consensus for what constitutes an ATC. A working definition, noted above, was therefore created for the purposes of this project. Not every state or territory makes use of ATCs. Complicating matters further, how these institutions are used and the learners they serve vary immensely. Consequently, the definition used in this report is intentionally broad based and seeks to be inclusive of these differences while balancing the need for a consistent understanding of these institutions.

Building Better Futures for Learners: A 50-State Analysis of Area Technical Centers Methodology
Comprehensive analyses or other such studies specifically on ATCs are largely non-existent. As a consequence, not much is known about ATCs, at least as institutions unto themselves, and there is no existing body of research with which to compare the findings of this report. The last known comprehensive collection of data on ATCs occurred in 2002, and that data collection simply sought to capture the total number of these institutions. Because ATCs vary so widely and can serve secondary, postsecondary and adult learners, ATCs sit in the middle of federal K-12 and postsecondary data collections — specifically, the National Center for Education Statistics’ Common Core of Data (CCD) and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Reliable state-level data are also difficult to parse as these institutions are part of different state or local governance structures, making it difficult to determine how these institutions have changed or evolved over time.

The 50-state report employed a mixed-methods approach that incorporated the collection of both quantitative and qualitative data from a variety of sources. To start, an aggregate list of all ATCs in the United States and territories was compiled. This information was sourced from 2018 CCD and IPEDS datasets. This compilation was intentionally broad to capture the full breadth of these institutions and also to determine whether these institutions had grown or shrunk in number since 2002. The compiled list was then sent to states and territories to validate these findings.

The other primary source of information and data that served as the foundation for this analysis was a survey that was sent to all 55 states and territories. This survey instrument was designed to limit open-ended questions and related responses to facilitate a higher response rate and establish a baseline of information. These responses are reflective of how State CTE Directors, or their designees, interpreted these related questions or their application to their state’s or territory’s context. As noted earlier, the variability of ATCs within and among states makes it difficult for an answer to accurately reflect every ATC in that state.

As a consequence of these limitations and other related factors, this study helps to uncover both the things known about ATCs and, just as importantly, what still lies ahead to be uncovered. It is a goal of this report to spur additional research on this topic in the years to come to help refine collective understanding of these important institutions and the role that they can play in the nation’s wider postsecondary education landscape.

State Profile Methodology

Interviews were used as the primary source for the five state profiles — Delaware, Florida, Ohio, Oklahoma and Utah. The interview protocol was developed to guide state-level leader interviews, local ATC leader interviews, and interviews with employers served by ATCs. Each state profile was informed by multiple interviews, including at least one interview for each group — state, local and employer. In most instances, multiple interviews were conducted at each level, and in all instances, state profiles were supplemented by additional research. States reviewed and approved their profiles, confirming the accuracy of content.

ATC Map Methodology

The results of Advance CTE’s census of ATCs are displayed via an interactive map, found at www.areatechnicalcenters.org. The methodology outlined below describes how the map was constructed, as well as how the underlying education and labor market data were assembled.

Initial verification of ATCs
Before the mapping of ATCs could begin, several data verification steps were undertaken. An initial list of ATCs was compiled and sent to State CTE Directors in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories for initial verification. State Directors from 36 states and three territories (Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands) responded. Texas’ State Director affirmed the existence of ATCs in the state but noted that the state does not have a way to track these institutions. Since ATCs cannot be reliably validated in Texas, the state is shown in the map as not containing any ATCs.

Matching to national databases
After initial verification was completed, the list of ATCs was then matched to two national education databases — CCD and IPEDS. The former is an annual census of secondary schools and the latter of postsecondary institutions. Linking to the CCD and IPEDS databases initiated the next step in the data verification process.

The matching of the ATCs to the two national databases was straightforward in most cases. However, in nine states, some ATCs seemed to be reported in both CCD and IPEDS. Since identifiers are not shared across the two national databases and the names of ATCs could differ, addresses were cross-referenced. To ensure that each ATC was counted once, only the (postsecondary) parent institution was included in the final tally. The names of all co-located centers and affiliated campuses are shown under each parent in the interactive map.

Thirty-one ATCs could not be matched to either CCD or IPEDS. These “matchless” ATCs were considered by their respective State Directors to be open and active so their addresses were added by hand to the final roster.
At the end of the verification process, there were 1,346 ATCs and 135 co-located centers or campuses in operation in 2020. This twice-verified list of ATCs became the basis of the interactive map.

At the end of the verification process, there were 1,346 ATCs and 135 co-located centers or campuses in operation in 2020. This twice-verified list of ATCs became the basis of the interactive map.

Mapping ATC data
Using the verified list, the ATCs were geocoded using ESRI ArcGIS. Geocoding is the process of converting addresses (e.g., street number and name, city, state and zip code) into geographic coordinates (e.g., latitude and longitude). In other words, creating a point on a map. This is the first time that a complete list of ATCs has been mapped with such precision. The geocoded ATC data were then exported into Tableau, which has more user-friendly display and navigation options. To simplify the presentation even further, only the ATCs located in the contiguous 48 states are shown. Of the ATCs not shown, nine are located in Alaska, one each in Guam and the Virgin Islands and 31 in Puerto Rico.

Aggregate state counts and the change from the 2002 census are also shown in the interactive map.

Contextual map layers
The interactive map also includes three contextual layers. They are:

  • The percentage of the population who are college graduates;
  • The percentage of the population who fall below the poverty line; and
  • The unemployment rate.

The first two layers are based on the Current Population Survey’s Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC), which is conducted each March. ASEC provides annual income and poverty estimates from a survey of more than 75,000 households. A person-level weight (ASECWT) is used to correct for any sampling biases and to ensure that the survey sample is nationally representative across known distributions (e.g., age, sex and race).

Specifically, the college graduates layer is based on the percentage of sampled individuals who have attained at least an associate degree prior to being surveyed. ASEC data do not capture certificate holders; thus, the estimates of college graduates are slightly under-estimated.

The next contextual layer, percentage of the population living in poverty, uses official poverty thresholds, which adjust based on household size. The poverty threshold in 2019 for a single individual under 65 years old was $13,300. For a four-person household (two adults and two children under 18 years old), the poverty threshold was just under $26,000.

The third contextual layer, unemployment rate, is derived from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program. LAUS data combine federal- and state-sourced data to provide monthly and annual labor force estimates. They also share the same definitions as the Current Population Survey — meaning that individuals are considered unemployed if they are jobless, looking for a job and available for work and that the unemployment rate is the percentage of these individuals in the civilian labor force.

To maintain comparability with the other contextual layers, state- and county-level unemployment rates from March 2019 are used.

Coverage of contextual layers
Ideally, the contextual layers would display data at the county level. This display would allow variation within a state to be visible without getting too granular. However, ASEC does not survey individuals in every county. In fact, enough individuals were surveyed to produce reliable estimates in only 279 counties. The counties that produced reliable estimates include 383 ATCs (28 percent of the total). To address this shortcoming, state-aggregated contextual layers are also provided in the interactive map.