A new study by CALDER investigates how career and technical education (CTE) course-taking affects college enrollment, employment, and continuation into specific vocational or academic programs in college.
The researchers use postsecondary and unemployment insurance data from the Education Research and Data Center (ERDC) from 2014–16 to study the postsecondary outcomes of Washington State’s high school graduating class of 2013. Postsecondary data are limited to students who enroll in public colleges and universities in Washington State, and the final analytical sample includes 38,987 students whose eighth-grade achievement data can be linked to high school completion records. With about 43 percent of the sample qualifying as having concentrated in career and technical education—high school graduates who complete at least four CTE credits—the authors compare concentrators to otherwise similar non-concentrators by controlling for academic achievement prior to high school.
They find that students who concentrated their coursework in CTE are less likely to enroll in college, but are more likely to work full-time and for longer than other non-college-goers in the three years after high school. Specifically, 59 percent of CTE concentrators enrolled in college, as opposed to 65 percent of non-concentrators. This may be explained in part by the fact that CTE students are more likely to be disadvantaged, e.g., have learning disabilities (by 2.5 percentage points), be English language learners (by 4 percentage points), or qualify for subsidized lunch programs (by about 10 percentage points), and consequently, less likely to enroll in college.
Among students who do not enroll in college, CTE students are 1 percentage point more likely to work full-time in the three years following high school graduation, and are more likely to work full-time for an average of 0.11 more quarters within the three-year period.
And among students who do enroll in college, CTE students are significantly more likely to enroll in and complete vocational programs, primarily at community colleges and particularly in applied STEM fields—i.e., information technology (network systems, information support services, and interactive media pathways) and manufacturing (maintenance, installation, and repair pathways)—and public safety fields, such as correction services, security and protective services, and law enforcement services.
One important limitation of the study is that it does not include enrollment data for students in private nonprofit and for-profit colleges or out-of-state public institutions. In the analysis, these students are incorrectly coded as not attending college, and because it’s rare for students to enroll in two-year colleges out of state, this classification error likely skews the overall college enrollment and four-year college enrollment regressions. Additionally, the findings are limited to the state of Washington, where some minority groups that may benefit from vocational credentials, such as blacks and Hispanics, are underrepresented, compared to the overall U.S. population.
Still, it’s a comprehensive study, considering the data available, and it shows that the relatively high rates of transition into certain vocational programs can’t be fully explained by differences in academic preparation or other observable student characteristics. These positive impacts of CTE participation among Washington State high schoolers suggest positive effects on credential attainment and subsequent earnings, and that isn’t something to ignore.
SOURCE: James Cowan, Dan Goldhaber, Harry Holzer, Natsumi Naito, and Zeyu Xu, “Career and Technical Education in High School and Postsecondary Pathways in Washington State,” CALDER (November 2019).