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New Evidence Links Oregon Career and Technical Education to Higher Graduation Rates, Earnings

October 1, 2020

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Over the past decade, Oregon has significantly expanded its career and technical education (CTE) programming to ensure students graduate high school with the skills they need to pursue postsecondary education and obtain a family-wage job. Our new report shows this investment is paying off—in 2018, nearly half of the state's secondary students had completed a full year of coursework in a CTE program. Oregon's investment pays off for students, too: Evidence from the study shows that secondary CTE credit is positively related to on-time high school graduation and higher annual earnings. However, the study also identifies opportunity gaps in participation among underrepresented student groups that need to be addressed to guarantee that all students can benefit from CTE programs.

REL Northwest conducted the study at the request of the Oregon Department of Education and the Higher Education Coordinating Commission to provide a clear understanding of the state's evolving CTE landscape. Using data from 2007/08 through 2017/18, the study describes the CTE programs offered at public high schools during this period, the students who participated and persisted in these programs, and the postsecondary educational and workforce outcomes CTE graduates achieved.

The study found that the number of secondary CTE program offerings increased since 2015, with the steepest increase in urban schools. The number of students participating in CTE programs also increased, but gaps were evident among student groups (as defined by race/ethnicity, gender, economic disadvantage, special education status, and English learner status).

"This report will serve as a baseline as we launch Oregon's new CTE State Plan. It provides valuable information on where we need to focus our attention to remove barriers to access and increase opportunity to participate in quality CTE. It also reinforces the positive strides Oregon has made in growing CTE through legislative, community, and educational support over the past decade," says Jennell Ives, who leads Perkins coordination and CTE investments at the Oregon Department of Education.

Researchers also found that secondary CTE participation was positively related to on-time high school graduation; specifically, students who concentrated in a CTE program of study were 25 percent more likely to graduate high school in four years than those who did not. Earning a secondary CTE credit in Oregon was also positively related to higher annual earnings (a finding that parallels national research).

"Given the educational and workforce benefits that CTE confers, school leaders may wish to identify and close gaps for students who are not enrolling or persisting in CTE programs," says Steve Klein, CTE expert and report coauthor. "After assessing rates of engagement across student groups, leaders can take steps to increase access and participation to improve outcomes for all students."

In 2021, REL Northwest will provide districts with a series of trainings to review their own CTE participation and concentration rates by career area and student groups. The trainings will also include discussions on how to address equity gaps. For more information about the study and REL Northwest's partnership work in Oregon to improve graduation and postsecondary success, contact Michelle Hodara.

Career and Technical Education in Oregon: Exploring Who Participates in High School and the Outcomes They Achieve
 Infographic |  Full Report