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Susan Walsh, Associated Press
First lady Michelle Obama speaks to a student in the audience at the Celebrating Innovations in Career and Technical Education (CTE) event in the South Court Auditorium in the White House complex in Washington, Tuesday, June 30, 2015. Obama recognized students and educators for their work connecting the classroom to real-life career opportunities.

WASHINGTON — A high school diploma is not enough to compete in the global economy, but a college degree is not the only option, first lady Michelle Obama told a group of students gathered at the White House on Tuesday.

Pursuing career and technical education programs after high school can still offer professional skills for high-demand jobs "at a fraction of the time, and more importantly, a fraction of the cost," Mrs. Obama said.

The postsecondary programs offer training in support services, academic and technical skills for high-wage and high-demand jobs, such as culinary arts.

"Finish your education," Mrs. Obama said. "Whether you do it through one of these fabulous CTE programs or whether you go on to a community college, four-year college— whatever you do— you have to finish your education."

Mrs. Obama spoke at a White House event celebrating educators, students and innovators in career and technical education programs. A 3-D printer to create chocolate sculptures, a 4-inch-cube satellite to study the atmosphere and a laser sensor system to detect baseball strike zones are among the innovations that have come from such programs, she said.

The White House conference included a showcase of student projects and discussions with educators, philanthropists, business leaders and policy makers on ways to expand the programs.

President Barack Obama signed an executive order last week to expand the Presidential Scholars program and establish a new category of outstanding scholars in career and technical education. The program recognizes distinguished high school students in visual literary and performing arts.