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BENEFITS OF CTE: New Fordham Report Links Career and Technical Education to Students’ School and Work Outcomes

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"Taking just one additional CTE course above the average increases a student’s probability of graduating from high school by 3.2 percentage points and of enrolling in a two-year college the following year by 0.6 percentage points.”

Students who take more career and technical education (CTE) courses are more likely to graduate from high school, enroll in a two-year college, be employed, and earn higher wages, according to a new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Moreover, students who focus their CTE course work in an industry-aligned program of study realize greater benefits and are 21 percentage points more likely to graduate from high school than similar students, according to Career and Technical Education in High School: Does It Improve Student Outcomes?

The Fordham report analyzes data from the Arkansas Research Center to examine the impact of CTE on the secondary, postsecondary, and labor market outcomes for students who started ninth grade in 2008, 2009, and 2010. The study follows these students from ninth grade through the year after they should have graduated from high school (classes of 2012 through 2014). The report notes that Arkansas is one of only five states that links education and workforce data in a manner that allows researchers to perform this type of analysis.

Among the cohorts studied, 89 percent of Arkansas students completed at least one CTE class, with students taking 4.9 CTE courses on average, the report says. The study finds that “taking just one additional CTE course above the average increases a student’s probability of graduating from high school by 3.2 percentage points and of enrolling in a two-year college the following year by 0.6 percentage points.”

Pairing that additional class with dual enrollment, which allows a student to earn college and high school credits simultaneously, “magnifies the impact of an additional CTE course by doubling the probability that a student will enroll in a two-year college the year after [high school] graduation,” the report says.

One extra CTE class in high school also raises a student’s likelihood of employment during the year following graduation by 1.5 percentage points and boosts that student’s expected quarterly wages by 3 percent, the report says. Additionally, students with greater exposure to CTE courses are equally likely to pursue a four-year college degree as other students, the report says.

“[T]he evidence does not indicate that low-achieving students are being tracked into comparatively large numbers of CTE classes, and high-achieving students away from them,” the report explains. “Instead, it suggests that CTE is considered a desirable elective for the majority of students, and middle and high achievers are not shying away from it.”

Furthermore, the study shows that CTE “concentration”—taking a sequence of three or more classes in a career-targeted program of study—yields additional benefits. Concentrators complete more CTE courses on average than nonconcentrators (8.5 classes versus 3.4 classes). But they also realize advantages beyond those associated with greater CTE course work alone. In addition to being more likely to graduate from high school, CTE concentrators are more likely to enroll in a two-year college, be employed, and earn higher wages compared to similar students (based on demographics and test scores) who complete an equivalent number of CTE classes but do not concentrate in a sequenced program of study. (See the figure from the report below.)

CTE concentration has the greatest impact on students from low-income families, increasing their likelihood of graduating from high school by 25 percentage points over students from low-income families who do not concentrate their CTE course work. Approximately 30 percent of all Arkansas students concentrate their CTE classes in a coordinated program of study, the report says.

Benefits of Concentration

“Overall, this study adds to the growing body of evidence on the impact of high school CTE,” write Fordham President Michael J. Petrilli and National Research Director Dara Zeehandelaar in the foreword to the report. “Policymakers in other states should heed Arkansas’s example by increasing their investment in secondary CTE that is aligned to the demands of the local labor market. … Connecting more young people with available opportunities by giving them the skills employers are seeking should be a national priority.”

As Straight A’s reported previously, U.S. Secretary of Education John King has called on the U.S. Congress to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which provides more than $1.1 billion in funding for CTE programs in middle school, high school, and postsecondary education institutions.

Additionally, Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA), Rob Portman (R-OH), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) have introduced the CTE Excellence and Equity Act, legislation supported by the Alliance for Excellent Education that would create a federal grant program to fund innovation in CTE through partnerships between school districts, employers, and institutions of higher education with the goal of preparing more students for postsecondary education and the workforce.

Fordham’s report Career and Technical Education in High School: Does It Improve Student Outcomes? is available at http://edexcellence.net/publications/career-and-technical-education-in-high-school-does-it-improve-student-outcomes?mc_cid=7d5bddf9fe&mc_eid=13fd2917e1.

For additional information about the CTE Excellence and Equity Act, read the Alliance’s fact sheet at https://all4ed.org/reports-factsheets/cte-excellence-and-equity-act-s-2718/.

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