Career and Technical Education in High School and Postsecondary Pathways in Washington State

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, nearly every state has included improvement in students’ career readiness as a strategy in their state plans. Career and technical education (CTE) coursework is perhaps the most common way students earn vocational skills during their secondary schooling. Despite the prominence of CTE coursework as a policy lever to improve career readiness, however, there is relatively little evidence about its relationship to key postsecondary outcomes.

In this study, we describe the high school completion rates and postsecondary transitions of students taking CTE courses in high school using administrative data on one cohort of high school students from Washington State. Conditional on observable characteristics, CTE concentrators—high school graduates who complete at least four CTE credits—are about 4 percentage points less likely to enroll in college than other high school graduates. However, CTE students are significantly more likely to enroll in and complete vocational programs, especially in certificate programs in applied STEM and public safety fields.

Among students not enrolled in college, CTE students are also more likely to obtain full-time employment—and to work more intensively—within the first three years following high school graduation. Although the improvements in employment outcomes do not offset reductions in college enrollment, the higher completion rates of vocational credentials among CTE concentrators indicate some important positive outcomes for this population.