Career & Technical Education Policy Exchange
Vocational Tech Ed in American High Schools
What drives vocational enrollment, and do these courses help or harm early careers?
Early exposure to vocational curriculum may facilitate better college enrollment decisions, an important policy priority. Wage gains from upper level vocational courses are unaffected by controlling for college enrollment and completion, suggesting that these courses do in fact have value in the labor market. In addition, gains accrue to those students who select into vocational coursework. Those induced into additional courses due to graduation requirements see no benefit. These last two points speak directly to criticisms that vocational education is “preparing students for jobs that don’t exist,” or that it is a “dumping ground” for low ability students. The results we uncover do not support either of these conclusions.
How schools should prepare students for post-graduation – college, the workforce, citizenry – remains a timely policy question. This is nowhere more evident than in the recent shift from “college for all” to “college and career,” and in the simultaneous drive toward increased academic standards through the Common Core, and an increasing drive toward workforce preparedness in career-tech pathways. Our research makes a strong case for keeping vocational education an accessible part of the high school curriculum and that students and policy makers should focus on the value of depth over breadth.
Download the working paper here.