What the Research Says on Career Technical Education (CTE)

April 2018
students in a science lab

The past few years have seen renewed enthusiasm in Career Technical Education (CTE). That has led to an increase in new programs and policies related to CTE and growing attention from the research community. Our librarians recently compiled this list of the latest studies and resources that states, districts and schools can draw from to create and improve CTE programs.

Resources and Research

A Look at Career and Technical Education Programs in Public School Districts: 2016–17 (2018)

During the 2016–17 school year, 98 percent of public school districts offered CTE programs to students at the high school level. Findings from this report from The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) include information on the types of entities that provide CTE programs in districts and the barriers districts report in offering CTE programs to high school students. The report also shows that 73 percent of districts offered CTE courses for which students could earn both high school and postsecondary credit; 61 percent offered CTE courses in which students could earn high school credits in math, science, English/language arts or social studies; and 30 percent offered online CTE courses, including blended/hybrid courses.

The Effect of Career and Technical Education on Human Capital Accumulation: Causal Evidence From Massachusetts (2018)

This paper investigates the causal impact of participating in a specialized high school-based CTE delivery system on students’ high-school persistence, completion, earning professional certifications and standardized test scores. It focuses on individuals from low-income families—a group that is overrepresented in CTE and high-school noncompleters and informs an understanding of the potential impact of specific CTE program participation on the accumulation of human capital even in a high-stakes policy environment.

Linking the Timing of Career and Technical Education Coursetaking With High School Dropout and College-Going Behavior (2017)

This study looked at whether the timing of CTE courses predicts differences in the likelihood of dropout and on-time high school graduation as well as college-going behaviors and found that CTE coursetaking in high school was linked to lower chances of dropout and increased chances of on-time graduation, especially when these courses were taken later in high school. Little evidence arose that CTE coursetaking boosts college-going behaviors. See also an Education Week article covering these findings.

Simulated Work-Based Learning: Instructional Approaches and Noteworthy Practices (2017)

Work-based learning (WBL) has long been used to allow students to practice the knowledge and skills they acquire in the classroom within a “real-world” business or industry setting. This exploration of nine sites revealed three different models used to offer simulated WBL, with each providing different advantages. Educators considering the adoption of simulated WBL can consider each model’s advantages and tailor their program offerings to their specific community needs.

Vocational and Career Tech Education in American High Schools: The Value of Depth Over Breadth (2016)

This working paper presents a framework for high school curriculum choice and evaluates how these decisions impact college attendance, completion and subsequent earnings. The paper finds that while vocational courses marginally deter four-year college attendance, they have no impact on graduation. The researchers estimate a near 2 percent wage premium for each additional year of advanced vocational coursework, but no benefit (or harm) from basic vocational courses. The paper concludes that while vocational education plays an important role for non-college graduates, policy should focus on encouraging depth rather than breadth in vocational course-taking.

What We Know About Career and Technical Education in High School (2017)

This article from the Brookings Institution Evidence Speaks series looks at earlier non-experimental research findings such as CTE coursework does predict employment outcomes but is not strongly associated with educational attainment. It also notes a lack of recent randomized control trial studies on topics related to CTE. The article notes that more rigorous research on CTE programs is needed.