JVER v26n3 - The Relation of High School Career- and Work-Oriented Education to Postsecondary Employment and College Performance: A Six-Year Longitudinal Study of Public High School Graduates
The Relation of High School Career- and Work-Oriented Education to Postsecondary Employment and College Performance: A Six-Year Longitudinal Study of Public High School Graduates
James Griffith Julie Wade Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland
The employment and college enrollment history of high school graduates (N = 4,476) of a large, suburban school district was examined, with particular interest in how the postsecondary employment and school of graduates who had completed a career- and work-oriented secondary educational program (N = 399) compared with that of other graduates (N=4,476). Overall, program participants fared better on many employment outcomes than non-program participants, and as well as non-program participants on college performance. They worked more quarters and had more continuous employment than non-program participants. Program participants also earned more over the 6-year follow-up and each year from 1994 through 1998. They were also less likely to be employed in areas traditionally considered short-term or temporary in their first jobs than were non-program graduates, and more were employed in trades than were non-program participants. Finally, program participants performed nearly the same on college outcomes as did non-program participants. Results call for adjusting thinking about the benefits of career- and work-oriented secondary education for all students, whether their postsecondary plans are to enroll in college or to enter employment.
Lack of Work Skills Preparation in the Midst of a Changing Workforce
Recently, there have been increased national, regional, and local concerns about the perceived inadequacy of preparing youth for the workplace. News media have speculated that American youth are not qualified to meet the demands of the increasingly competitive workplace and, in fact, lack basic job entry-level skills (Harwood, 1997 ; Swoboda, 1991 ). Employers, in particular, have criticized public education for not providing a skilled and educated workforce (Weisman, 1991 ). This criticism gains validity when considering the increasing number of high school graduates who lack entry-level job skills and who need remedial education in the basic skills of reading, writing, and math before taking postsecondary college courses and employment (Beyers, 1995 ; Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, 1990 ).
Labor market data on American's youth have been viewed by some as indicating the inadequate preparation of high school graduates for entry-level jobs and decisions about career fields and occupations (Harwood, 1997 ; Pham, 1992 ; Swoboda, 1991 ; Weisman, 1991 ). Young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 years have changed occupations, employers, or jobs on the average of six times (Stern, Finkelstein, Stone, Latting, & Dornsife, 1995 , p. 5; U.S. Department of Labor, 1993 ). Young adults, 18 to 19 years old, also have among the highest rates of unemployment (Stern et al., 1995 ). One explanation of these statistics, among others, is that a lack of preparation by the public educational system has resulted in graduates "floundering" after high school, i.e., going from job to job, school to work, or work to school, with little sense of purpose and career direction (Hamilton, 1990 ; Osterman & Iannozzi, 1993 ).
Further contributing to this view are the demands for America's high school graduates to attend 4-year colleges and universities irrespective of labor market trends and the career and vocational interests of graduates. A large majority of the parents of today's high school seniors believe that their children should enroll in colleges and earn college degrees. Indeed, a recent survey of parents of high school students in the school district in which the present study was conducted showed that 91% of the parents expected their children to receive at least a 4-year college degree (Montgomery County, 2000 ). Nationally, about two-thirds of high school seniors planned to attend 4-year colleges immediately after high school (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2000 ). While these percentages have fluctuated, they have remained high and have generally increased over the past years despite emerging technologies in the workplace and changes in industry that have resulted in many more technical jobs, not necessarily requiring workers who have obtained 4-year college degrees, but rather workers who have obtained more applied, technological skills. To illustrate, recently published data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that more than 65% of all jobs in the year 2000 require specialized education (i.e., more than a high school diploma but less than a 4-year college degree), nearly tripling since the 1950s (Brustein & Mahler, 1994 ). Curiously, the percentage of jobs in the labor market requiring 4-year degrees has remained the same for the past 50 years, around 20%.
Given the emerging technologies in the workplace and changing industry standards to compete in the global economy, the perceived lack of a qualified workforce has caused great consternation among employers, educators, students, and the general public. According to some, this situation has resulted from schools having inadequate mechanisms that relate high school education to the workplace (Harwood, 1997 ; Pham, 1992 ; Swoboda, 1991 ; Weisman, 1991 ). Without these connections, public schools have not kept pace with the needs of the changing work force and required job skills.
The School-To-Work Opportunities Act (STWOA)
The situation described above prompted federal and state legislatures to enact policies that provide career- and work-oriented education for young adults, particularly in public school settings, in order to better equip students to meet the challenges posed by the transition from high school to post-secondary employment and education. In 1994, the federal government passed the School-To-Work Opportunities Act (STWOA). The broad aim of the legislation was to reduce "floundering" and "trial behavior" among young adults (described earlier) and develop in them marketable job skills and career goals. STWOA provided federal support for state and local jurisdictions to design and implement career- and work-oriented secondary education to assist graduates in making successful transitions from high school to post-secondary employment and education.
Following the passage of the STWOA, many state and local governments enacted policies to develop and implement school-to-work (STW) activities. These activities encompassed a broad range of secondary school activities, including career awareness classes, work readiness classes, development of individual student career plans, student use of career centers, instruction on pathways to careers, extended workplace activities, internships, summer jobs, work site job shadowing, workplace mentoring, and community service (Olson, 1996 ; Stern et al., 1995 ).
Shortcomings in STW Research
Despite the growth and the importance placed on STW initiatives, there have been few empirical studies evaluating their presumed effects on students' post-secondary employment and education. Instead, much of the existing literature on STW can be characterized as being concerned chiefly with (a) implementation issues, and (b) the collection and reporting of aggregate data on the numbers and types of STW activities offered to high school students.
Regarding the first issue, abundant in the STW literature are descriptions and discussions of program implementation rather than program evaluation. Prominent in discussions of implementation are questions on how best to integrate academic and vocational curriculum to make STW programs accessible to all students, to establish linkages between school curriculum and structured work experience, to create more formal pathways from secondary education to post-secondary employment and education, and to generate incentives for employers to provide student work placements (Urquiola, Stern, Horn, Dornsife, & Chi, 1997 , p. iv - v).
A second prominent issue of STW literature is the collection and reporting of aggregate data on various STW program activities, such as the number of employers who collaborate with schools to offer work-based training, the number and types of student work placements (paid vs. unpaid; employer-, student-, or school-initiated), the number of student participants, etc. (National School-To-Work Office, 1998 ; Wieler & Bailey, 1997 ). Few, if any, quantitative studies in this literature document and relate the student's participation in career- and work-oriented secondary education to expected outcomes of the STWOA. To illustrate, Baker and Taylor ( 1998 ), in their meta-analysis of the effects of career education interventions, identified only 12 evaluation studies between 1983 and 1996. These studies were characterized by relatively small sample sizes (only two were over 250), by short duration of implementation, by meeting the needs of specific student populations (e.g., minority, offenders), and by limited career training (e.g., writing, decision-making, videos, role plays). Baker and Taylor ( 1998 ) concluded "The relatively small number of published studies that were located may very well indicate that this is an underrepresented area of applied or field evaluation research" ( p. 383 ). Similarly, in their literature search of vocational psychology articles from 1987 to 1996, Worthington and Juntuneen ( 1997 ) found very few empirical studies that examined STW activities or related issues.
Research Regarding Benefits of Vocationally- and Work-Oriented Secondary Education
What empirical evidence exists regarding effects of high school career- and work-oriented education on graduates' post-secondary employment and education is mixed. Some studies have shown that high school participants of vocationally-oriented secondary school programs perform better than non-participants on several outcomes, such as being employed and earning higher wages (e.g., Orr, 1996 ). Conversely, other studies have reported no program effects (e.g., U.S. General Accounting Office, 1991 ). Stern, McMillon, Hopkins, and Stone ( 1990 ) reviewed research before 1990 and made two general observations. The first observation was that students who participated in high school vocationally-oriented programs fared no better in work than did non-participants; however, participants had more positive attitudes toward high school and perceived a stronger relation between their high school curriculum and work (Herrnstadt, Horowitz, & Sum, 1979 ; Leske & Persico, 1984 ; Lewis, Gardner, & Seitz, 1983 ; Walsh & Breglio, 1976 ). The second observation was that high school vocationally-oriented programs had adequately prepared students for college, even though the programs were primarily vocationally-based (see also, New York State Department of Education, 1990 ; U.S. General Accounting Office, 1991 ). More recently, a study conducted by the National Center for Research in Vocational Education (cited in Stern et al., 1995 , pp. 45-52) showed short-term benefits of high school vocationally-oriented programs in terms of higher wages (see also, Bishop, Blakemore, & Low, 1985 ; Campbell, Eliott, Laughlin, & Seusy, 1987 ; Walsh & Breglio, 1976 ) but alluded to long-term negative effects, namely, lower likelihood of program participants to complete 4-year college degrees, thereby lessening their future career upward mobility.
The purpose of the present study was to analyze the impact of the career- and work-related secondary education programs. In order to do that, we approached this study from the three areas identified in the literature as constituting the major research gaps: (a) the need for outcome evaluations as opposed to process evaluations of high school career- and work-oriented educational programs; (b) the need to employ large sample sizes in such evaluations; and (c) the need to include all graduates, not only those from special populations.
The present study employed a large sample of graduates and obtained quarterly employment data and annual college enrollment data during 6 years following high school graduation in spring 1993. Some graduates had completed a career- and work-oriented educational program during high school. Despite having participated in the program almost a decade ago, the essential program characteristics have remained generally the same, namely: (a) Content: Students were required to complete a specific sequence of high school courses instructing students on the knowledge, skills, and abilities required of entry-level jobs in occupational fields; (b) Method: Classroom instruction related course content to actual work situations; (c) Workplace experiences: Students completed at least one semester of supervised work placement or internship; (d) Knowledge of careers: Course content instructed students of specific jobs available in the chosen occupational field.
The career- and work-oriented program examined in the present study shared many of the characteristics of initiatives called for and funded under the STWOA. To be supported by the 1994 STWOA, school-to-work initiatives required three elements: (a) integration of school-based and work-based learning, and the grounding of students' coursework in work-based learning experiences; (b) combined academic and vocational curriculum in which academic instruction is presented in real-world contexts that gives practical meaning to theories and abstract information; and (c) linking secondary and postsecondary education to provide access to careers requiring postsecondary education (Stern et al., 1995 , pp. 12-14).
The overlap in characteristics of the present study's career- and work-oriented secondary educational program and elements of the STW initiatives permitted examining the extent broad characteristics common to both career- and work-oriented education and school-to-work activities were associated with graduates' post-secondary employment and education activities. Positive effects would then provide empirical support to current high school career- and work-oriented activities falling under STW initiatives.
Specific research questions to be answered in this study were:
1. Do graduates who participated in career- and work-oriented secondary education show more positive results in their postsecondary employment, such as being employed, having more continuous employment, obtaining higher earnings, and less likely to enter short-term, temporary jobs after high school graduation than non-program participants? 2. Do graduates who participated in career- and work-oriented secondary education show positive results in their postsecondary education in terms of the number of years to receive college degrees, the percentage who received college degrees, the first-year grade point average, and the percentage who were enrolled in remedial education, compared with graduates who did not participate in the program?
The sample of graduates was obtained from all students who graduated from high schools in a large, suburban school district outside a major metropolitan area on the eastern seaboard of the United States. Students, numbering 6,284 graduating seniors, completed the state's high school graduate survey during the spring semester of the twelfth grade. The survey asked students their social security numbers. Of all graduates ( N =6,284) 4,476 or 71% had complete social security numbers.
Graduates' social security numbers permitted appending to each graduate case data from two separate archival data sets: (a) employment data supplied by the state's department of labor, and (b) college enrollment data supplied by the state's higher education commission. Initially, the data set containing each graduate's social security number, background characteristics, and high school curriculum data was sent to two state agencies. The state agencies appended employment and college enrollment data to each graduate case. The state agencies returned the final data set without social security numbers to protect the confidentiality of each graduate's employment or college records.
Each data set is described below.
Employment Performance Outcomes
Employment outcomes were derived from data on the quarterly earnings of people who worked in the state. The present study considered quarterly earnings of the 1993 graduates from the third quarter of 1993 through the third quarter of 1999. The state's earnings file does not contain earnings obtained from other states. Therefore, only graduates who had worked for wages in the state during the 6-year period could be matched with the earnings data. Of the initial sample of all graduates, 3,925 or 62% had earnings data from at least one quarter during the 6-year period.
Earnings data for each individual indicated the total earnings for each quarter and the general area in which earnings were obtained (or the Standard Industry Code, SIC). Five employment performance outcomes were derived from these earnings data:
1. quarters worked during the 6-year period (cumulative count of quarters for which there were earnings); 2. continuous quarters worked or "spell of employment" during the 6-year period (cumulative count of consecutive quarters for which there were earnings); 3. total adjusted earnings across the 6-year period; 4. annual adjusted earnings for each of the 6 years; and 5. first and most recent area of employment based on the SIC.
All earnings data were adjusted to 1999 dollars. This was accomplished by using a standard procedure recommended by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is, quarterly earnings for each individual were multiplied by the ratio of the Consumer Price Index in 1999 to the Consumer Price Index of the year in which the quarterly earnings were reported.
College Performance Outcomes
College performance outcomes were derived from annual college enrollment data. The present study considered public college and university enrollments of the 1993 graduates from academic year 1993-1994 through academic year 1998-1999. Enrollments in private colleges and universities and colleges and universities outside the state were not included in the college enrollment data. Of the initial sample of all graduates, 2,645 had enrolled in public colleges or universities within the state during at least one year during the 6-year period, representing 59% of those graduates with valid social security numbers, or 42% of all graduates in the class.
Enrollment data also included: the student's first-year grade point average (GPA), the highest degree earned, year of degree, type of degree (e.g., certificate, associate, and bachelor), major of the degree granted, and the need for math and English remedial education (math, English, reading) when entering college. Four college performance outcomes were derived from enrollment data:
- type of degree earned (if any);
- years to receive college degree;
- first-year GPA; and
- enrollment in remedial education.
Overlap Between Employment and College Enrollment Data
There was considerable overlap between graduates having employment data and graduates having college enrollment data. Among the 4,476 graduates with social security numbers, 2,498, or 56% had both employment and college enrollment data. Of the 3,925 graduates with employment data, 64% also had college enrollment data. Of the 2,645 graduates with college enrollment data, 94% also had employment data. Overlap between the employment and college enrollment data would likely have been even greater if college enrollment data had been available from institutions other than public post-secondary schools within the state.
Comparability of the Analytic Samples to the Entire Class
The two matches of all graduates having valid social security numbers with the employment data and with the college enrollment data yielded two analytic samples. Table 1 displays background and high school characteristics of the analytic sample resulting from the match with the employment data (column C). Also shown are the background and high school curriculum characteristics of all 1993 graduates (column A) and graduates who had valid social security numbers for purposes of matching with other data bases (column B).
The analytic sample of graduates with employment data closely resembled the entire class in terms of the background and high school curriculum characteristics. Statistically significant differences between the entire class and this analytic sample (column A-C) were largely the result of large sample sizes. The magnitude of differences indicated little practical significance.
Table 2 displays background and high school characteristics of the analytic sample resulting from the match with the college enrollment data (column C). Table 2 is similar to Table 1, with the exception of column C and statistical comparisons of data in columns A and C. The main interest here is to determine the extent to which the analytic sample for college enrollment (column C) resembled all graduates (column A) on key background and high school curriculum characteristics.
Table 1Background and High School Curriculum Characteristics of all 1993 Graduates, Graduates with Valid Identification Numbers, and Graduates with Earnings
Background or High School
( N = 6284)
( N = 4476)
( N = 3925)
( A-B )
( A-C )
Background Characteristic % African American/Hispanic 24.5 23.3 23.5 1.44 1.15 % Free and Reduced Price Meals (FARMS) 20.3 18.8 19.2 1.94 1.15 % English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) 16.2 14.5 14.4 2.42* 2.33* High School Curriculum % completed Algebra I 76.3 80.5 80.2 -5.26*** -5.06*** % completed 12th grade English or higher 92.4 94.7 94.9 -4.86*** -4.70*** Mean number of honors courses § 5.53
-7.39*** -4.72*** Mean grade point average (GPA) § 2.88
-4.60*** -4.42*** Mean Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) § 1096
-2.14* 0.00* p <.05 ** p <.01 *** p <.001
§ Number in parenthesis is Standard Deviation
The two groups of graduates statistically differed on variables relating to academic background but not on sociodemographic characteristics (see column A-C). The magnitude of these differences was fairly small, suggesting the sample of graduates having college enrollment data was similar to all graduates on the variables of comparison.
For analyses, two groups of graduates were defined based on their participation in career- and work-oriented secondary educational program and post-secondary college and work activities.
Career- and work-oriented education (CWE)
Graduates in the class of 1993 who had completed the high school career- and work-oriented educational (CWE) program were compared with the remaining graduates, or non-program participants, on the employment and college performance outcomes. The CWE program involved a prescribed sequence of courses leading to state-certified diplomas. Courses helped students acquire specialized knowledge, skills, attitudes, and work habits required for postsecondary vocational education, training, and employment. Areas of study in the CWE program included: business education (marketing, hospitality, and food production), business operations (secretarial, typing, data processing, accounting, etc.), health (allied health and child care), trades (masonry, carpentry, plumbing, etc.), automotive, and horticulture. Throughout high school, CWE participants took several semester-long job placements that combined classroom instruction and work experiences. With the help of school staff, students identified and selected work experiences relevant to their school and career plans. Students worked at local businesses, government agencies, industries, or service industries. Employers of students and school staff worked collaboratively and served as role models in developing appropriate and relevant job competencies for students. Nine percent (399 out of 4,476) of the 1993 graduates had completed the CWE program.
Table 2Background and High School Curriculum Characteristics of 1993 All Graduates, Graduates with Valid Identification Numbers, and Graduates with College Enrollment Data
Background or High School
( N = 6284)
( N = 4476)
( N = 2645)
( A-B )
( A-C )
Background Characteristic % African American/Hispanic 24.5 23.3 23.4 1.44 1.12 % Free and Reduced Price Meals (FARMS) 20.3 18.8 21.6 1.94 -1.37 % English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) 16.2 14.5 17.9 2.42* -1.93 High School Curriculum % completed Algebra I 76.3 80.5 81.7 -5.26*** -5.85*** % completed 12th grade English or higher 92.4 94.7 94.2 -4.86*** -3.19*** Mean number of honors courses § 5.53
-7.39*** 3.33*** Mean grade point average (GPA) § 2.88
-4.60*** 0.79 Mean Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) § 1096
-2.14* 8.59**** p <.05 ** p <.01 *** p <.001
§ Number in parenthesis is Standard Deviation
Post-secondary college / work groups
Employment patterns are often associated with college attendance and the type of college attended. Too, college performance, such as years to complete degree, GPA, need for remedial education, etc., is often associated with type of college attended. Therefore, CWE and non-CWE graduates were compared on the employment and college performance outcomes, overall and then within groups of graduates with similar post-secondary college and work status.
Employment data in combination with college enrollment data were used to categorize graduates into three broad groups: (a) attended 4-year colleges and universities in the state during the 6-year period; (b) attended 2-year colleges in the state during the 6-year period; and (c) worked without having attended colleges and universities in the state. There were specific criteria for inclusion into these three categories. Graduates having college enrollment data were grouped by college type, either 2-year college or 4-year college. Graduates who attended 2-year colleges and then 4-year colleges were included in 4-year college group. No minimum number of semesters of attending college was required for inclusion. Graduates in the work-only group were those (a) who reported that they planned to work and not attend post-secondary school after graduation (as indicated by responses to surveys at high school graduation), and (b) who had employment data and no post-secondary school data. Survey-reported plans to work was used because many of the graduates who had employment data and no post-secondary school data were likely attending colleges outside the state.
CWE Graduates' Background and High School Curriculum
Table 3 displays the background and high school curriculum characteristics of the class of 1993 CWE graduates and non-CWE graduates.
An overall multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) test of differences in the background and high school curriculum characteristics between CWE and non-CWE graduates was statistically significant ( F -value (8,3265) = 23.12, p < .001). Univariate F -values indicated that CWE graduates differed from non-CWE graduates on several of the characteristics. In terms of sociodemographic background, CWE graduates were more likely African American or Hispanic, and more had participated in the Free and Reduced Meals (FARMS) and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) programs in high school than non-CWE graduates. In terms of high school curriculum, CWE graduates were less likely to have completed Algebra 1, took fewer honors courses, and earned lower GPAs and SAT scores.
Table 3Background and High School Curriculum Characteristics of 1993 CWE and non-CWE Graduates
Background or High School
( N = 433)
( N = 4043)
Background Characteristics % African American/Hispanic 36.0 21.9 10.60*** % FARMS 37.4 16.9 47.66*** % ESOL 22.6 13.6 4.18* High School Curriculum % completed Algebra I 47.6 83.9 50.49*** % completed 12th grade English or higher 85.6 95.6 1.49 Mean number of honors courses
94.47*** Mean GPA
30.11*** Mean SAT
124.88***Note . The MANOVA F (8,3265) equaled 23.12, p < .001, showing statistically significant differences between CWE and non-CWE graduates (or factor) across all the background and high school curriculum characteristics (or dependent variables).
* p <.05 ** p <.01 *** p <.001
Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) programs in high school than non-CWE graduates. In terms of high school curriculum, CWE graduates were less likely to have completed Algebra 1, took fewer honors courses, and earned lower GPAs and SAT scores.
Six-Year Postsecondary Employment
Table 4 shows mean quarters worked, continuous quarters worked, and total earnings for CWE and non-CWE graduates.
Table 4Comparison of Employment Performance between 1993 CWE and non-CWE Graduates (during the 6-year Period after High School Graduation)
( N = 399)
( N = 3526)
N M SD N M SD Total quarters worked a Overall 399 14.17 7.66 3526 11.35 7.26 53.03*** 4-year college 73 14.82 7.11 1259 12.62 6.56 7.52*** 2-year college 170 15.50 7.25 826 14.78 6.95 1.50 Working only 40 18.64 6.39 67 15.44 7.42 5.10* Continuous quarters worked a Overall 399 10.32 7.01 3526 7.54 6.19 69.97*** 4-year college 73 9.97 6.43 1259 8.06 5.80 7.35** 2-year college 170 11.50 6.87 826 10.56 6.53 2.84+ Working only 40 14.21 6.99 67 10.95 6.98 5.40* Total earnings b SE SE Overall 399 46577 1392 3526 37798 461 35.58*** 4-year college 73 39517 3182 1259 37857 758 0.26 2-year college 170 59054 2237 826 52454 1012 7.21** Working only 40 91118 6470 67 68031 4967 7.82**a Estimated means adjust for the graduate's FARMS status.
b Estimated means adjust for the graduate's FARMS status and total quarters worked.
+ p <.10 * p <.05 ** p <.01 *** p <.001
Note . The MANOVA F (3,3920) equaled 25.55, p < .001, showing statistically significant differences between CWE and non-CWE graduates (or factor) across all the employment outcomes (or dependent variables). Univariate F values were the result of separate analysis of covariance conducted for each row or college / work group in which CWE status served as the independent variable, the employment outcome served as the dependent variable, and FARMS and/or quarters worked served as covariates.
To determine whether CWE and non-CWE graduates differed on the three employment outcomes, an overall MANOVA was conducted. This multivariate test was done to guard against an inflated alpha due to comparisons between CWE and non-CWE graduates on several variables. In the MANOVA, CWE versus non-CWE served as the factor; the three employment outcomes served as dependent variables; and FARMS served as a covariate or control variable. Previous comparisons showed CWE graduates differed from non-CWE graduates on several background and high school curriculum characteristics. To control for possible effects of these characteristics on outcomes, FARMS was used as a covariate in analyses. Other background and curriculum characteristics were not used, as they were correlated with the FARMS variable, and their inclusion may have resulted in multicollinearity problems. The overall multivariate F (3,3920) equaled 25.55 (p < .001) indicating that CWE graduates differed from non-CWE graduates on the three employment outcomes.
Next, for each outcome, three separate analyses of variance (ANOVAs) were conducted corresponding to each college / work group. CWE versus non-CWE served as the factor; the employment outcome served as the dependent variable; and FARMS and quarters worked (only for earnings) served as the covariates. Table 4 reports F -values for pairwise comparisons and adjusted means. Univariate F -values showed that CTE graduates worked more, had longer spells of employment, and earned more across the 6-year study period.
Table 4 also reports results for each college / work group. CWE graduates in the 4-year college and working groups worked more quarters and worked more continuously than their non-CWE counterparts. CWE graduates had an overall earnings advantage in relation to (or compared to) non-CWE, especially among the working-only and 2-year college groups.
Figure 1 displays the mean annual earnings for CWE and non-CWE graduates in each college / work group. Values for mean annual earnings have been adjusted by graduates' FARMS status and quarters worked. Across the years, CWE graduates earned more than non-CWE graduates, even when considering graduates' FARMS status and number of quarters worked. The MANOVA test of statistical significance in earnings per quarter between CWE and non-CWE graduates across the 6 years was significant, while holding FARMS status constant ( F (6, 1121) = 8.82, p < .001).
Table 5 shows the annual earnings advantage between CWE and non-CWE within college / work groups across the 6 years of the study. Overall, CWE graduates earned more than their non-CWE counterparts in each of the college / work groups, in particular for the working-only group. The earnings advantage is most evident for those graduates who went straight to work, year after year. For CWE graduates who went to college, there was an earnings advantage right away, but the earnings advantage diminished in the later years of the study. In addition, the earnings gap between graduates who went straight to work and those who went to college after graduation narrowed in the later years of the study.
Table 5Annual Earnings Advantage of 1993 CWE Graduates Compared to non-CWE Graduates
1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 Overall 2292*** 2881*** 3017 2384*** 1716* -175 4-year college 1167** 964+ 787 542 -344 464 2-year college 1250** 2108*** 1547 1536 1604 -260 Working only 2720** 4371** 5616** 4937* 7290+ 9062*+ p <.10 * p <.05 ** p <.01 *** p <.001
Note . Earnings have been adjusted to reflect 1999 dollars (annual earnings X 1999 CPI / year of earnings CPI). Values indicate how much CWE graduates earned in relation to non-CWE graduates. Values adjusted for graduates' FARMS status and quarters worked during the respective year.
First and Most Recent Areas of Employment
Figure 2 displays the percentages of CWE and non-CWE graduates in each college / work group who entered various areas of employment as their first jobs and their most recent jobs.
Completion of a CWE program was associated with the area of industry in which the graduates were employed. A smaller percentage of CWE graduates was employed in areas traditionally considered short-term or temporary, such as restaurants, hotels, and entertainment (see Figure 2), in their first jobs (t (3742) = -4.32, p < .001). More CWE graduates were employed in trades (e.g., construction, transportation, automobile mechanics) than were non-CWE graduates, both at their first job (t (3742) = 3.51, p < .001) and their most recent job (t (3742) = 2.40, p < .05). Most recent employment in business areas (e.g., personnel, business, finance, insurance, accounting, real estate) was similar for CWE graduates and their non-CWE peers, but CWE graduates were somewhat more likely to enter these areas of employment in their first jobs (t (3742) = 1.50, p < .15).
Table 6 displays results for CWE and non-CWE graduates on several college performance outcomes. CWE and non-CWE graduates were very similar on college performance outcomes. Both groups took, on the average, 4 years to complete college degrees. About 60% of both graduate groups enrolled in 4-year colleges had received 4-year college degrees, and about 6% of both groups enrolled in 2-year colleges had received 2-year college degrees. First-year grade point average for graduates in both groups was about C+ for 4-year colleges and about C for 2-year colleges. Percentages of CWE and non-CWE graduates in remedial education were nearly the same.
Table 6Comparison of College Performance between 1993 CWE and non-CWE Graduates (during the 6-year period after high school graduation)
College Performance Outcome 1993 CWE
( N = 266)
( N = 2379)
M SD M SD Years to degree 4-year college 4.47 0.91 4.48 0.75 0.01 2-year college 4.40 1.17 3.91 1.20 1.38 Of those who attended
% who received degree
4-year college 60.2 61.3 0.04 2-year college 6.0 5.4 0.10 First-year grade point average 4-year college 2.56 0.81 2.58 0.88 0.03 2-year college 1.91 1.03 1.78 1.03 1.66 % in remedial Math education 4-year college 31.0 25.8 0.93 2-year college 61.6 57.6 0.73 English education 4-year college 9.9 7.6 0.45 2-year college 39.1 37.3 0.14 % planning to attend
(reported at high school)
4-year college 29.5 71.2 17.30*** 2-year college 52.2 21.1 11.98*** Working only 11.5 2.7 5.42*
Note . College performance and consistency between CWE and non-CWE graduates were compared within college / work groups. Therefore, no MANOVA F-value was calculated. *p < .05 ***p < .001
Summary of Results
In the present study, CWE graduates worked during more quarters overall and worked more continuously across the 6-year follow-up period than non-CWE graduates. CWE graduates also had higher earnings than non-CWE graduates, even when considering socioeconomic background, number of quarters worked, and postsecondary college and work activities. Similarly, several past studies have shown high school participants of vocationally- and work-oriented programs to perform better than non-participants on several postsecondary work outcomes, such as being employed and earning higher wages (Bishop et al., 1985 ; Campbell et al., 1987 ; Orr, 1996 ; National Center for Research in Vocational Education cited in Stern et al., 1995 , pp. 45-52; Walsh & Breglio, 1976 ). The present study also showed additional benefits of career- and work-oriented secondary education. CWE graduates were less likely to be employed in areas traditionally considered short-term or temporary, such as restaurants, hotels, and entertainment, in their first jobs than were non-CWE graduates. More CWE graduates were also employed in trades than were non-CWE graduates, both at their first job and their most recent job. Most recent employment in business areas was similar for CWE graduates and their non-CWE peers, but CWE graduates were more likely to enter these areas of employment in their first jobs.
CWE graduates performed nearly the same on the college outcomes as did non-CWE graduates, including the number of years to receive college degrees, the percentage who received college degrees, the first-year grade point average, and the percentage of graduates enrolled in remedial education. Similarly, in their review, Stern et al. ( 1995 ) noted that participants of high school vocationally-oriented programs were adequately prepared for college, even though the programs were primarily vocationally-based (see also New York State Department of Education, 1990 ; U.S. General Accounting Office, 1991 ). Results here and elsewhere have strong implications for our thinking about which high school students enter career- and work-oriented education and about the presumed effects of such an education.
Adjusting Common Perceptions about Career- and Work-Oriented Secondary Education
Stone ( 1993 ) has described common perceptions among students, school staff, parents, and the general public regarding vocationally- and work-oriented secondary education. Examples of these perceptions included: vocationally- and work-oriented education makes little difference in the labor market; and vocationally- and work-oriented secondary education hinders students continuing their postsecondary education. In this study, high school students who participated in career- and work-oriented secondary education performed as well, if not better, in the workplace and in college than did non-participants.
Another common belief described by Stone is that vocationally- and work-oriented secondary education is for students who cannot handle rigorous secondary school coursework. Indeed, in the present study, high school curriculum characteristics of CWE graduates compared to their non-CWE counterparts were consistent with this belief. CWE graduates had less high school college preparation than non-CWE graduates, and yet, CWE graduates performed as well in college as did non-CWE graduates. Still, CWE participants were disproportionately disadvantaged - students who often have lower expectations for their educational attainment. This problem has been previously documented (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1991 ) and, in part, explained by student perceptions that work-oriented secondary education is mainly for students who are not college-bound. One aspect of the STWOA was to provide career- and work-oriented education for all students. If STW initiatives are to achieve a broader student "reach" (see Rossi, Freeman, & Wright, 1979 ), then new initiatives must be designed and marketed in ways to attract all student groups. Future research needs to examine barriers to participation as well as program characteristics associated with broader inclusion of high school students.
Understanding barriers to participation may lead to developing efforts to broaden the reach of career- and work-oriented educational programs. Areas of concern include: the lack of student, parent, and school staff knowledge about the positive effects of career and work preparation activities; the lack of knowledge about changes in workplace skills needed in the global economy; and the perception of less rigorous academic standards for high school course curriculum associated with career and technology education. Further study of these and other barriers to participation will help to inform strategies to address them. Strategies might include:
- Informing students and parents about changes in workplace opportunities, the skills necessary for competing in the modern economy, and the positive effects of secondary school career and work preparation activities.
- Determining ways to offer career- and work-oriented education courses and activities so that they fit into the schedules of all students.
- Having current career- and work-oriented education courses, such as accounting, finance, computer science and medical career courses qualify for honors credit or advanced placement. Such offerings would reinforce the academic rigor of career and work preparation courses.
- Devising ways to formally structure outside work experiences of students. Approximately two-thirds of the high school seniors reported working for pay. However, only 20% of these work experiences are related to a structured school program that reviews and evaluates workplace skills (Montgomery County, 2000 ).
- Encouraging students, school staff, and parents to use four-year plans not only for course selection during secondary school but also for career and work exploration and planning.
Identifying Specific Program Characteristics Associated with Positive Employment and College Performance
The STWOA mandated public schools design and implement activities that better enable high school graduates to enter college and the workforce. Yet, which specific STW activities are associated with positive employment and college performance is not known. There have been few, if any, studies examining the post-secondary employment or college achievement of graduates who participated in STW initiatives. It has been argued here that activities called for and funded under the STWOA and the study's career- and work-oriented secondary educational program share broad characteristics. These similarities, in the context of study results, show the post-secondary employment and college benefits of activities called for in the STWOA. Even so, lacking still is an understanding of which specific activities or program characteristics are associated with positive effects on later employment and college performance.
In the present study, having participated or not participated in career- and work-oriented secondary education served as the only measure of program experiences. Thus, the question remains: What specifically about the career- and work-oriented education yields positive effects on postsecondary employment and college performance? At present, there can be only speculation. Positive effects of the CWE program were likely due to the program's length (spanning the high school years) and content (courses related directly to work applications). That is, students learned about career fields; selected and planned high school curriculum for the chosen career field; and experienced jobs first-hand in the career field and adjusted choices accordingly; and trained in the chosen career field in the classroom and at the workplace. The program gave students information and direct experiences from a variety of career fields, allowing students to more formally acquaint themselves with the realities of career fields. Further research is needed to examine how such specific components of career- and work-oriented educational programs relate to employment and college performance. By gaining a better understanding of the characteristics of career- and work-oriented secondary educational programs that are associated with positive outcomes, educators can better develop and deliver STW activities.
The present study is not without methodological limitations. First, some graduate groups were small in analyses. Therefore, caution should be exercised in interpreting and generalizing results. Second, not all graduates had employment and college data. Employment data included only records of those graduates who had worked in the state. This situation presented difficulties in deriving employment rates, since it was not possible to know whether graduates had left the state or had stayed in the state but were not working. College enrollment data included only those graduates who attended state public post-secondary schools. These limitations associated with graduates not having employment and college data appeared not to present major problems: Many of the graduates had employment (71% of the original class) or college data (42% of the original class), and these graduates generally resembled the entire graduating class on several background and high school curriculum characteristics.
A third limitation pertains to the correlational nature of the study and the lack of available data to use as statistical controls. Differences in employment and college enrollment history among the various graduate groups used in comparisons may be explained by systematic differences among graduates. High school programs offering career- and work-focused courses and activities may attract students who differ considerably from other students. For example, students who choose career- and work-oriented education, remain in it and benefit from it may come from home environments that encourage secondary education linked to specific jobs. It was not possible to test this explanation, as no specific information was gathered on students' home environments or other possible influences.
The effects of self-selection can sometimes be minimized by the use of standardized tests as statistical controls in analyses, but such test data were not available for all graduates. It should be noted that many of the analyses have considered student socioeconomic background and post-secondary school and work activities when comparing participants and non-participants of the career- and work-oriented secondary educational program, as methods to reduce the effects of self-selection.
Special thanks are extended to Ms. Cynthia Loeb who assisted in preparing results for reports and to Dr. Jerry Weast, Superintendent of Montgomery Public Schools, to Mr. Barry Burke and Mr. Jim Ferrant, Career and Technology Education Division of Montgomery County Public Schools, and to Mr. Doug Schiffman and other members of the Montgomery County Business Roundtable for their support of this research.
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JAMES GRIFFITH is a researcher for Montgomery County Public Schools, 10956 Bellehaven Boulevard, Damascus, MD 20872. [E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org ]. His research interests include evaluating school-to-work, school processes associated with school effectiveness and student achievement, and school leadership.
JULIE WADE is also a researcher for Montgomery County Public Schools, 10956 Bellehaven Boulevard, Damascus, MD 20872. Her current research interests include examining the benefits of high school work-based learning on student preparedness for postsecondary school and work and perceptions of school and classroom climate related to student achievement.