Students Entering and Leaving Postsecondary Occupational Education: 1995-2001

Executive Summary

This report examines the issues of occupational student enrollment, persistence, attainment, and labor market outcomes for a cohort of first-time, credential-seeking postsecondary students. Occupational students are defined here as subbaccalaureate students (i.e., students seeking associate’s degrees or certificates) in occupational (rather than academic) fields of study. The report’s focus on these students derives from a congressional mandate for NCES to report information on career/technical education, which is defined as occupationally oriented education at the subbaccalaureate level. (The mandate and definition are in the 2006 Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act, P.L. 109-270.) Specifically, the report examines three broad issues concerning occupational education that are key indicators of the status of occupational education and are emphasized in the Perkins Act:

  • Who enters postsecondary occupational education? 
  • To what extent do occupational students persist in postsecondary education and to what extent do they complete their credential goals (i.e., earning a postsecondary certificate or degree)? 
  • What are the labor market outcomes for postsecondary occupational students who earn credentials?

Of specific interest in this report is the extent to which occupational students differ from baccalaureate students and from academic subbaccalaureate students in terms of the questions listed above. However, since occupational students are more likely than academic subbaccalaureate students to seek certificates, the report also examines the extent to which occupational and academic associate’s degree seekers do not differ from each other, but do differ from occupational certificate seekers.

The data used in this report are from the Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS), including the 1995–96 base-year survey and its two follow-up surveys in 1997–98 and 2000–01 (BPS:96/01). The base-year BPS surveyed a nationally representative sample of all beginning postsecondary students in academic year 1995–96. For this report, this sample was restricted by excluding (1) students who had not previously attained a high school diploma or its equivalent, and (2) students who did not expect to earn a postsecondary credential (certificate or degree) at their first postsecondary institution. These restrictions reduced the size of the baseyear BPS:96 sample for this analysis from 12,080 to 9,221 first-time credential-seeking students. The sample was further restricted by the use of sampling weights, which were available for 7,274 of the 9,221 students.

The report presents mainly simple bivariate comparisons of estimates among different groups of students. These comparisons were tested using Student’s t statistic, at the .05 level of significance. The analysis of students’ labor market outcomes also includes a series of regression analyses, using both logistic regression (to predict dichotomous outcome variables) and semi-log regression (to predict a continuous outcome variable with a skewed distribution).