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Career technical education and labor market outcomes: Evidence from California community colleges (Stevens, Kurlaender, & Grosz, 2019)

Absence of conflict of interest.

Citation

Stevens, A. H., Kurlaender, M., & Grosz, M. (2019). Career technical education and labor market outcomes: Evidence from California community colleges. Journal of Human Resources, 54(4), 986–1036.

Highlights

  • The study’s objective was to examine the impact of career and technical education (CTE) programs on earnings. 

  • The authors used a nonexperimental comparison group design to estimate impacts of CTE programs in California, drawing on data from quarterly student earnings information from the state’s unemployment insurance system and administrative records from the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO).  

  • This study found that CTE programs significantly increased earnings for students who completed them. 

  • The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because the authors did not ensure that the groups being compared were similar before the intervention. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the CTE programs; other factors are likely to have contributed.  

Intervention Examined

CTE Programs

Features of the Intervention

CTE programs prepare students through a wide range of courses for careers in public safety, corrections, health care, construction, and other industries. Public community colleges serve as a main point of access to CTE programs. The authors analyzed CTE programs that include both degree programs (associate of arts/sciences degrees that typically require 60 credit hours) and certificate programs (from 6 to 59 credit hours). The length of degree programs is typically four semesters, or two years, of full-time coursework. Certificate programs may require one to four semesters of full-time coursework. 

Features of the Study

This study used a nonexperimental comparison group analysis to compare earnings of California students who completed a certificate or degree through a CTE program from 2003 to 2007 (the treatment group) to those of students in the state who enrolled in but did not complete such programs (the comparison group). The California Employment Development Department provided quarterly student earnings information from the state’s unemployment insurance wage data system and the authors matched those data with detailed administrative records from the CCCCO from 1992 to 2012, before and after the period of the intervention. Approximately 93 percent of students in the CCCCO data set were matched to earnings records. The authors estimated a statistical model to compare the earnings outcomes of students before and after a given type of CTE program, and between the treatment and comparison group members. They used weighted averages to aggregate findings across CTE program fields. The authors analyzed the effects of four types of CTE programs separately: (1) associate of arts/sciences degrees, (2) CTE certificates awarded after 6 to 17 credit hours, (3) CTE certificates awarded after 18 to 29 credit hours, and (4) CTE certificate awarded after 30 to 59 credit hours. 

Findings

  • The study found that CTE programs were associated with increases in earnings of 45 percent for degree holders and 14 to 28 percent for certificate holders (depending on the number of credit hours required) compared to students who began but did not complete CTE programs. These findings were statistically significant. 

  • The study found that earnings increases associated with CTE program completion were similar for men and women. 

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

The study does not demonstrate equivalency in pre-intervention employment between those in the treatment and comparison groups. In addition, the fact that program completion, and hence inclusion in the treatment or comparison group, is based in part on individual choice may bias the study results. Preexisting differences between the groups—and not the CTE programs—could explain the observed differences in outcomes. 

Causal Evidence Rating

The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because the authors did not ensure that the groups being compared were similar before the intervention. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the CTE programs; other factors are likely to have contributed. 

Reviewed by CLEAR

May 2021

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