Presents findings from a study that describes high school students’ participation in career and technical education (CTE) in Arkansas and uses quasi-experimental methods to compare CTE students with non-CTE students in terms of education outcomes, graduation rates, enrollment in postsecondary education, employment, and wages.

“Until the late 1990s, ‘vocational education’ in traditional trades such as carpentry, cosmetology, and auto mechanics was often the presumptive high school placement for low-performing students considered ill-suited for college. However, in the past two decades, policymakers and educators have reconsidered what is now referred to as…CTE.…The goal of today’s CTE is simple: to connect students with growing industries in the American economy and to give them the skills and training required for long-term success.

Unfortunately, little is known about this ‘new vocationalism.’ This study uses a rich set of data from the Arkansas Research Center” (p.4) and follows “three cohorts of students—those who started ninth grade in 2008, 2009, and 2010…through the year after they should have graduated from high school. Student observations include what courses they took in high school, whether they graduated, enrolled in a two- or four-year college, and/or became employed, and (if employed) their wages. Together, these cohorts include over 100,000 individual students and more than 350,000 student-year observations” (p.15).

Research Questions:

1. “Which students are taking CTE courses? Which courses—and how many of them—are they taking?

2. Does greater exposure to CTE improve education and employment outcomes (high school graduation, college enrollment, employment status, and wages)?

3. Does CTE ‘concentration’ (taking a sequence of three or more courses in an occupationally aligned ‘program of study’) have benefits for students? Do certain students benefit more than others?” (p.4).

“Three analytic approaches were used to understand the CTE landscape and generate estimates for the effects of CTE on student educational attainment, college enrollment, employment, and wages” (p.32). These quasi-experimental methods included regression analyses, an instrumental variables approach, and matched grouping of students (p.32-33).

“Arkansas is a[n] [interesting] case study because it recently overhauled its policies to improve career readiness and align CTE programs with the labor market. Further, beginning with the class of 2014, all high school students must take six units of ‘career focus’ coursework to graduate” (p.4).

This is one of seven briefs that documents the work of seven regional partnerships selected to participate in the Communities that Work Partnership initiative.

(Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)

Major Findings & Recommendations

“Arkansas students with greater exposure to CTE are more likely to graduate, enroll in a two-year college, be employed, and have higher wages. Furthermore, those students are just as likely to pursue a four-year degree as their peers. In addition, students who ‘concentrate’ their CTE coursework are more likely to graduate high school by 21 percentage points compared to otherwise similar students.…Concentration has positive links with the other outcomes as well. Moreover, the results of this study suggest that CTE provides the greatest boost to the kids who may need it most—boys, and students from low-income families” (p.2). “CTE does not have to be super expensive and highly exclusive in order to have positive effects…most students took courses at their comprehensive high school, and some did so at regional technical careers. And it worked” (p.2). “Findings: 1. Most students in Arkansas take CTE with limited evidence of ‘tracking’” (p.5). 2. “White and female students are more likely to concentrate, and some concentrations are more or less popular depending on a student’s gender, race, income level, and disability status” (p.5). 3. “The more CTE courses students take, the better their education and labor market outcomes” (p.5). 4. “Students who concentrate see additional benefits, especially when it comes to high school graduation” (p.5). 5. “Male and low-income students see the largest benefits to concentrating” (p.6). Recommendations: 1. “Examine state labor market projections to identify high-growth industries; 2. Offer CTE courses aligned to skills and industry-recognized credentials in these fields, and encourage (or require) high school students to take them; 3. Encourage (or require) students taking multiple CTE courses to concentrate, rather than enrolling haphazardly; and 4. Support and encourage dual enrollment and make credits ‘stackable’ from high school into college, so that high school CTE courses count toward specific postsecondary credentials” (p.6). “[T]his study adds to the growing body of evidence on the impact of high school CTE. Policymakers in other states [could look to] Arkansas’s example [and increase] their investment in secondary CTE that is aligned to the demands of the local labor market….[and connects] more young people with available opportunities by giving them the skills employers need” (p.2). (Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)