Career and Technical H.S. Grads Have More Initial Earning Power, Study Says

Teacher with male students. (Getty Images)
Teacher with male students. (Getty Images)

Males who graduate from career and technical high schools in Connecticut earn more than their peers in the years immediately following graduation, according to a new study by the University of Connecticut.

Through age 23, the career and technical high school graduates earned 31% more than students who graduated from traditional high schools, according to the team from UConn’s departments of public policy, economics, and education.

The past decade has witnessed a resurgence in interest in career and technical education as an alternative pathway for high school students, the authors write in their study, published in the Annenberg Institute’s education working paper series.

“Career and technical education has been an important strategy for improving the economic opportunities of students who might not pursue a traditional four-year college degree,” says author Eric Brunner, UConn professor of economics and policy. “This is especially important given the declining opportunities for non-college educated workers.”

Even as the job market evolves, researchers found positive results for both the educational and labor market outcomes for students at the 16 technical high schools in Connecticut, where 7% of the state’s students enroll.

The team examined data on approximately 57,000 eighth-graders from 2006-2013, through age 23.

They found that male students who went to career and technical high school in Connecticut were about 10% more likely to graduate high school, with the improved labor market outcomes being accompanied by a roughly 8% dip in their likelihood to attend college.

Being disadvantaged, being eligible for free-lunch programs, and more likely to have lower scores on standardized tests did not lower the effectiveness of the career and technical high schools, Brunner says.

However, the findings were limited to males. There were not any noticeable effects in attending a career technical school, either positive or negative, for females, says Stephen Ross, co-author and UConn professor of economics.

“One of our next goals is to look closer at females in these settings and hopefully come up with some answers,” says Ross.

Additionally, in December of 2019, the researchers are slated to receive data on the eighth-graders through the age of 26, providing a fuller picture of the effects.

The study comes as the government continues to invest in this area of education. In 2018, the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act was reauthorized, providing $1.2 billion in funding for these programs and job training for students.

Can this study be applied to other states? Possibly, says Ross. While the data clearly shows the positive effect of career technical schools, it’s important to take into account the format of Connecticut.

“For most states, career technical high schools are all over but in Connecticut they really have it as a whole model with one umbrella, one superintendent and its own district,” Ross says.

Further, the degree of career and technical education offered by a traditional high school may impact the findings.

“If your [traditional high] school had a lot of career technical education then getting into the system wasn’t as important,” says Brunner. But if the traditional high school did not, “you got a bigger payoff for going to a career technical high school.”