Panel Paper: Career Pathways and Postsecondary Transitions in Washington State High Schools

Friday, November 8, 2019
Plaza Building: Lobby Level, Director's Row H (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Dan Goldhaber1, Harry Holzer2, Zeyu Xu3 and James Cowan3, (1)University of Washington, (2)Georgetown University, (3)American Institutes for Research

Nationally, more than 95% of students take at least one career and technical education (CTE) course in high school, with significant proportions of low-achieving and special education students concentrating in one or more CTE programs. While recent studies have focused on the postsecondary outcomes of CTE students, particularly those in programs that intentionally span the postsecondary transition (Berger et al., 2013; Kemple & Willner, 2008), there is relatively less information about the academic and career pathways of traditional high school students. 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 two cohorts of high school students from Washington state. Using rich data that links high school CTE credits to students’ courses and programs of study while in college, we focus especially on the link between enrollment in high school CTE courses and continuation into specific vocational or academic programs in college.

We first assess the relationship between CTE courses and high school completion. We compare the progression of students with higher and lower CTE course loads using discrete time hazard models and controlling for students’ background (8th grade standardized test scores, student demographics, prior participation in special education programs). We further consider whether the association between CTE courseload and high school outcomes varies for two subgroups of students who have received significant prior attention in the literature: students enrolled in special education and students with weaker academic backgrounds (Dougherty & Lombardi, 2016; Lombardi et al., 2018).

We next explore how CTE students navigate the transition into academic and career pathways in college. We focus particular attention on “CTE concentrators.” Following Theobald et al. (2018) and Wagner et al. (2016), we define CTE concentrators as those students who complete at least four credits of CTE during high school (i.e., at least one CTE course each year on average). By this definition, CTE concentrators account for nearly 30% of the students in our sample. Following Holzer and Xu (2019), we classify postsecondary students based on their enrollment in traditional academic and vocational pathways. These pathways include six routes to an associate’s degree for students enrolled in community colleges (liberal arts/social sciences, STEM programs, general occupational programs, occupational business programs, occupational health programs, and applied STEM programs). In Washington, the first two pathways typically lead to an academic associate’s degree and the option of transferring to a four-year institution. The last four pathways encompass a number of associate degree and certificate programs, including criminal justice, childcare, nursing, and applied business programs. We additionally include direct enrollment in a four-year institution (no postsecondary enrollment forms the base group). We first focus on the initial postsecondary enrollment decision and estimate multinomial logit models. We then follow students through the first two years of college and model the likelihood that students are enrolled in particular pathways in subsequent academic terms.