CTE has less impact on grad rates when courses taken early

CTE has less impact on grad rates when courses taken early

(Calif.) Completing career technical education courses can increase the likelihood a student will earn their high school diploma–but only if they take CTE classes as a junior or senior, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara found that while upperclassmen were more likely to graduate on time and less likely to drop out after participating in CTE courses, the same wasn’t true for freshmen or sophomores, who saw no added benefit.

“The purpose of CTE courses is to engage students and show how school is relevant to both career and college, (and) as students get closer to the finish line, CTE courses become extremely relevant to them,” Michael Gottfried, associate professor of education at the University of California, Santa Barbara and lead researcher, said in a statement. “Knowing how the timing of course taking can make a difference, states and schools can better structure and invest in CTE courses to create stronger high school outcomes.”

Career education has received a swell of support in recent years, with a growing number of states passing legislation aimed at promoting career education and training, and districts developing career pathways directly targeting local community needs. CTE courses can encompass engineering, health sciences, cyber security and agricultural sciences, among numerous other career pathways. Such coursework emphasizes applied learning that has been found to contribute to academic knowledge, problem-solving skills and technical skills relating to specific in-demand occupations.

In June, the president signed an executive order that called for expanded apprenticeship programs, including for high school students, and the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would update the Perkins Act, the federal law overseeing CTE programs in schools and colleges, for the first time since 2006.

Using data collected in the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002 by the National Center for Education Statistics on a nationally representative cohort of students, researchers at UC Santa Barbara found that for each CTE course completed during the junior year in high school, a student was 1.5 percent more likely to graduate on time and 1.6 percent less likely to drop out. For each CTE course completed during the senior year, a student was 2.1 percent more likely to graduate on time and 1.8 percent less likely to drop out.

Surprisingly, they found that taking CTE courses during freshman and sophomore years had very little impact on on-time graduation and dropout rates, and that completing CTE courses at any point during high school had no effect on whether students enrolled in college immediately after high school.

Gottfried noted that the lack of a relationship between CTE and college enrollment was surprising as well, given that one purpose cited in decisions to expand high school CTE course offerings is to smooth the transition to college.

Jay Plasman, a PhD student who worked on the study with Gottfried, said while the findings did not show a direct positive relationship between CTE and college-going behaviors, it is important to note that this also means there is no negative association, and that, essentially, CTE courses hold equivalent weight in promoting college enrollment as other high school courses.

“That said, this result does open the conversation for further assessment of the reach of high school CTE course taking, if policy makers and school leaders wish to more effectively rely on CTE to address college-going gaps,” Plasman said in a statement. “Our research suggests that the positive impact of CTE courses is currently limited to high school outcomes.”