Session Recap: Can High Schools Impart Job Market Skills?
November 17, 2014 01:00 PM
By Becky Kelleman, Rutgers University
According to the presenters, the answer is quite simple: no, yes, and kind of. Policy makers, researchers, and educators all have vested interest in education for students, but they are struggling to identify how secondary education can be improved to impart college and career readiness. Ultimately, the research presented during this panel demonstrated the complexities involved with increasing student outcomes.
One study investigated high school graduation rates of students attending technical education schools. By looking into administrative data in Massachusetts, the researcher found that career and technical education actually impacts high school graduation rates, especially among those from lower-income backgrounds. Having an option on which school to attend has an impact on the probability of graduation, and if a student attends a technical education school, it increases the probability of graduating on time. Although the cost per student attending a technical education school is $2,000-$3,000 more per year, it is less expensive than keeping a student in school for another year.
The ways to ensure similar successes in other technical education schools involve creating a framework that offers stigma reduction, mentoring, increased student autonomy and an innovative instructional model. In the schools investigated, technical education was not viewed negatively, or as a program for those who can’t learn. These schools also provided mentorship to students, investing individualized attention to student successes. Students also had a highly interactive instructional model, experiencing one week in the classroom learning and one week in the shop doing.
Having a high school diploma is a growing requirement for most occupations in the U.S. Yet, it is not necessarily representative of having the necessary skills to enter the job market, though it may be a pre-requisite. Another study looked at the impact of taking career and technical level courses and investigated whether or not students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) courses are more likely to employment in STEM jobs and if it effects the wages.
The researchers looked at courses like advanced mathematics and science, scientific research, engineering, information technology and followed student outcomes. The findings may be a shock to educators because these courses do not improve the likelihood of students taking jobs in the STEM sector. If students from these courses do take a job in the STEM field, they do not earn more. Students who take STEM courses actual earn more in non-STEM jobs than STEM jobs. High school coursework is not preparing non-college bound youth for jobs in the STEM economy.
Which leads to the question of whether or not career and technical education has benefits besides possibly increasing graduation rates? Do these programs pull students out of college for very limited returns in the labor market? The other research presented aimed to answer these questions. It is important to note that it is hard to find data for career and technical education because most studies are observational. Yet, with the data that does exist, there have been some interesting findings.
If students are going to take career and technical education classes, the returns come from taking advanced level or experiential coursework. There are no benefits associated with entry level courses. The benefits are seen primarily in wages after high school. These classes also help students to determine their abilities, which can lead to better college decisions for those that do attend college.
All the researchers recognized the need for more research, however, the implications of the research are clear: career and technical education has distinguishable benefits, mentoring and promoting students to take advanced level coursework will encourage better decisions regarding career and education choices in the future.