CTE in high school is a bridge to college

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Career and technical education (CTE) programs in high school provide a clear path to postsecondary education and career success, according to a “data story” by the U.S. Education Department.

The data show the potential benefits – including completing a community college credential and a well-paying job – of a concentrated sequence of CTE courses in high school.

“Concentrating in CTE can provide students with a strong foundation of technical knowledge and employability skills to complement their academic studies and prepare them for both college and career options,” ED said.

Student participation in high school CTE is relatively high. Among those who entered high school in 2009, 77% had earned at least one CTE credit by their senior year in 2013. However, less than half of CTE participants in high school (37%) concentrated in a specific area of CTE. The report refers to students who earned two or more credits within a single program of study, such as health science or business, as “CTE concentrators.”

Dual enrollment

Nearly all public school districts offered CTE programs to high school students, according to the report. About three-fourths of these districts offered dual-credit CTE courses that earn both high school and postsecondary credit.

Among public school districts with CTE programs in 2016-17, 73% offered dual credit; 77% offered on-the-job training, such as internships or clinical experiences; 63% offered mentoring by employers; and 31% offered mentorships.

CTE programs were delivered in varied locations. The vast majority (83%) were offered at a high school. More than a third (35%) were offered at a two-year community or technical college or a four-year institution.

CTE concentrations in STEM and STEM-related career clusters represented one-third of all CTE concentrations in high school in 2017.

According to ED, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) “are critical disciplines for a society whose economic growth and adaptability are dependent upon innovation.”

The most common career clusters overall in high schools in 2017 were, in order: arts, audiovisual technology and communication; business management and administration; and health science.

Indicators of success

The report finds high school students who were CTE concentrators graduated from high school at higher rates (94%) than their non-concentrator peers (86%).

However, the department cautions against using the findings to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of CTE “because these data do not account for differences in both observable and unobservable characteristics. Such descriptive data do not imply causation.”

Among concentrators, 72% enrolled in postsecondary education within two years of high school graduation and 84% enrolled within eight years.

High school students who were CTE concentrators also were more likely than non-concentrators to earn an associate degree as their highest level of educational attainment within eight years of their expected high school graduation.

Within eight years of high school graduation, 34% of CTE concentrators completed some college but didn’t earn a credential, 11% earned a certificate, and 11% earned an associate degree.

Among non-concentrators, 33% had completed some college, 10% earned a certificate and 7% earned an associate degree.

Higher earnings

High school students who were CTE concentrators were employed full-time at higher rates (72%) eight years after their expected high school graduation compared to non-concentrators (67%).

Eight years after their expected high school graduation, the median annual earnings for CTE concentrators were higher than for non-concentrators.
Among concentrators, 15% earned $45,000 or more, 44% earned 20,000 to $44,999 and 41% earned less than $20,000.

Among non-concentrators, those percentages are, respectively, 14%, 40% and 45%.

According to the report, participation in CTE in high school can ultimately help the U.S. fill the “middle-skills” jobs shortage. There are 30 million jobs in the U.S. that do not require a bachelor’s degree – but do require a certificate or associate degree – and pay median earnings of $55,000 or more.

“CTE provides an important avenue for young adults to gain these skills beginning in high school,” ED noted. And that’s important because filling middle-skills jobs is critical to maintaining the nation’s competitiveness.

About the Author

Ellie Ashford
is associate editor of Community College Daily.