The College Paths of Career/Tech Students

Study offers some unexpected insights into those who pursue a vocational curriculum in high school.
July 24, 2006

In too many public policy discussions about higher education, they are largely invisible -- the one-fifth of high school students who take primarily career and technical coursework rather than the more typical college prep or general education curriculums. A new study from the National Center for Education Statistics suggests, however, that while such students are less likely than their peers to go on to college, they do so in significant numbers and aren’t easy to pigeonhole in terms of where they go to college or what they study once there.

The study, “The Postsecondary Educational Experiences of High School Career and Technical Education Concentrators,” is based on the National Educational Longitudinal Study, which examined the high school class of 1992 (beginning in 1988) and followed their college experiences through to 2000.

About 21 percent of those high school students surveyed as part of the study were deemed “concentrators” in career and technical education, compared to 38 percent who pursued a college prepatory curriculum and 41 percent who studied general education. (About a quarter of the career/technical students completed a college prep course of study, too, and were characterized as “dual concentrators.”) The CTE concentrators were about 60 percent male, but largely reflected the overall student population in terms of race and ethnicity, and they entered high school with somewhat weaker academic preparation than other students.

By 2000, eight years after the class graduated, 65 percent of career/technical students had completed some college education, compared to 76.7 percent of all students. The career/tech students were significantly less likely to have enrolled in college than were students who had completed a college prep curriculum (91.8 percent), but they went to college at roughly comparable rates to students who had taken a general education curriculum (68.9 percent). Those career/technical students who jointly took a college prep curriculum were likelier than the career/tech only students to go to college, by a margin of 82 percent to 59 percent.

About three-quarters of the career/technical education concentrators who enrolled in college did so within seven months of graduating high school, and the vast majority of them (91 percent) took significant enough numbers of credits that they were not characterized as “incidental” students.

In terms of where they enrolled, about 56 percent of them went first to a community college and 37 percent to a four-year institution. (The rest went to institutions of various kinds that primarily offer certificates.) For comparative purposes, about a quarter of the college prep students an about half of the general education students attended a community college first.

Just over half of the career/technical education concentrators who went to college had earned a certificate or degree by 2000, and 26 percent of them had earned a bachelor’s degree or higher. By comparison, 74.5 of college prep students had earned a degree by 2000, and 64.5 percent had earned a bachelor’s degree or higher. And just under half of general education students had earned a degree or certificate, and 35.2 percent had earned a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Of those career/technical students who had completed an associate degree by 2000, more than a third (35.6 percent) had done so in academic rather than career or technical fields. And of those who had earned a bachelor’s degree, more than a fourth had done so in academic disciplines.


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