Effects of career-technical and college-preparatory high school curricula on educational attainment
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Roughly one-third of all secondary students in the U.S. leave school without a regular high school diploma, and the percentage of U.S. bachelor’s degree holders has fallen far below that of other industrialized nations. Since educational attainment is an important determinant of labor productivity and technological progress, it is critical to ascertain the effects of different high school curricula on educational attainment outcomes. The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of career-technical education (CTE) and college-preparatory high school curricula on secondary and postsecondary educational attainment. Given recurring debates over the resource intensity of secondary CTE, educational attainment outcomes for individuals enrolled in CTE curricula were of particular interest. Data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 (NLSY97; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2009a) were analyzed using a rigorous causal-comparative research design that applied multiple imputation and propensity score matching to control for missing data and selection bias, respectively. CTE curricula had a statistically significant positive effect on regular high school completion when compared to general-track curricula. No CTE curriculum effects were found for GED or any level of postsecondary educational attainment. College-preparatory curricula had a statistically significant positive effect on four-year college degree completion when compared to general-track curricula. No college-preparatory curriculum effects were found for any other level of educational attainment. The positive effects of CTE curricula on high school diploma attainment should prompt policymakers to rethink the role of CTE in U.S. public education and consider it a strategic asset in boosting high school completion rates. The positive effects of college-preparatory curricula on four-year postsecondary attainment corroborate the notion that such programs of study are best-suited for academically-inclined students who manage to persist throughout high school. Given the positive impact of CTE and college-preparatory curricula at different educational attainment levels, future research should closely examine the causal effects of dual CTE/college-preparatory curriculum concentrations on student outcomes.