Navigating CTE during COVID-19: Best Practices for Distance Learning

April 27th, 2020

As education moves online in response to COVID-19 (Coronavirus), Career Technical Education (CTE) programs are looking for ways to continue supporting learners virtually and offer high-quality educational opportunities. This edition of the CTE Research Review will synthesize some of the research on best practices for delivering distance learning. While these examples predate the pandemic, they can be a guide to CTE programs looking to implement or scale distance learning in response to the Coronavirus. 

A 2010 U.S. Department of Education meta-analysis of experimental and quasi-experimental studies from 1996-2008 found that distance learning is at least as effective as traditional classroom instruction and most successful for undergraduate and adult learners. Despite being a little dated, the findings from the studies examined likely hold true today. Some best practices identified for distance learning included giving learners an element of control over their learning (such as offering multiple options of learning tools), providing online simulations and building opportunities for individualized instruction and learner reflection.

In 2015, Hanover Research released a report outlining best practices in the development and implementation of high-quality distance learning. Some of the key findings included giving learners the opportunity to collaborate with each other as a means to further learner engagement and ensuring the course platform is easy to use with necessary information such as syllabi, schedules, readings and videos. Additionally, the authors examined the literature of best practices for online instruction specifically at the postsecondary level and cited Penn State’s World Campus’ recommended principles of effective online instruction. The original recommendations in detail are linked here and explain how to effectively engage in online instructing for the following teaching principles: actively engage in online instruction; practice proactive course management strategies; establish patterns of course activities; prepare for potential course interruptions; respond to student inquiries in a timely manner; establish a timely process for returning assignment grades; use the Learning Management System for communication and ensure course quality.  

A 2018 edition of Library Technology Reports focuses on the accessibility of distance learning programs for students with disabilities. Using the University of South Carolina’s Center for Teaching Excellence as a case study, the article identified best practices in online learning and accessibility for students with disabilities. Their recommendations are as follows:

  • “Provide step-by-step instructions for accessing the course and all course materials;
  • Offer multiple formats of materials, including Word and PDF documents;
  • Provide transcripts and closed captioning for all lectures, talks and synchronous or asynchronous interactions with students;
  • Use Sans Serif fonts to increase visibility and accessibility;
  • Use bold to display emphasis rather than color (for students with color blindness); and
  • Maintain ongoing one-on-one and group communication with students and offer accessible opportunities for interaction.”

In addition to these best practices, Advance CTE has compiled resources for distance learning. As the educational environment remains online to flatten the curve of the Coronavirus, these research-based best practices and resources can help guide CTE programs as they continue to provide high-quality learning opportunities. In future blogs we will highlight best practices related to delivering work-based learning and CTE-specific coursework online. 

Brian Robinson, Policy Associate

What Works in Postsecondary Work-Based Learning?

March 24th, 2020

Learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom. As the labor market changes and demands for a skilled workforce increase, there is renewed interest in work-based learning (WBL) programs across the country. Earlier this month The Urban Institute released a report on the topic, titled Expanding and Improving Work-Based Learning in Community Colleges. The report draws on national data and interviews with six community colleges and documents what is known about the implementation and outcomes of WBL models in community colleges, what strategies community colleges are adopting to measure WBL, and potential steps to improve measurement and address key challenges in expanding and improving WBL in community colleges. 

At the postsecondary level, WBL consists of opportunities such as apprenticeships, internships and cooperative education (co-op), which provide career preparation and training in a work setting that involves supervision or mentoring and connects to classroom or academic experience. Community colleges are vitally important institutions in preparing learners for the workforce, as they award most of the career-oriented credentials in the country. However measurement of WBL in community college contexts is limited and, as such, we know little about how common WBL programs are in these institutions, what models and approaches work best and for whom, who is able to access opportunities, and what outcomes and impacts they deliver for learners, businesses partners and colleges. 

Findings from the report suggest several challenges facing WBL programs including access, equity and diversity. These challenges are even more pressing given the evidence of positive outcomes for learners who are able to experience WBL. The report found that participants in Registered Apprenticeship programs earn higher wages, are more productive, and are less likely to use public benefit programs compared to comparable workers. 

In order to improve WBL at the community college level, the report recommends strategies for measuring WBL, evaluating progress toward diversity and equity goals, and improving data collection practices. For example Cincinnati State Technical and Community College has an institutional research staff member working in their career center. This person collects and analyzes data that in turn informs career services. The report specifically recommends state education and workforce officials develop state definitions of WBL, develop common data elements for tracking WBL, share employment data with colleges to support performance improvement, and incorporate WBL into the state longitudinal systems of data tracking. 

Community colleges are in a unique position to change the way WBL is experienced across the country. They serve about 12 million diverse learners, many of whom are women or learners of color. This makes these institutions ideal vehicles for closing long-standing equity gaps in the labor market, preparing the workforce, giving students the skills and knowledge for jobs and careers, and partnering with employers to provide the talent they need.

Brian Robinson, Policy Associate

New Research Shows Positive Employment Outcomes for CTE Learners

March 10th, 2020

One of the most important considerations for learners choosing to enroll in secondary and postsecondary Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs is whether that pathway will lead to a successful career and a good salary. The new Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V) requires states and local recipients to set goals around post-program outcomes for CTE concentrators. Several recent studies suggest that learners are finding gainful employment and increased salaries after completing CTE programs. 

A study in the Community College Journal of Research and Practice analyzed data from the California Community Colleges CTE Outcomes Survey. Using three years of survey data from over 46,000 former CTE participants, the researchers found that these learners reported positive employment outcomes and obtained greater increases in wages than they were earning before beginning their program.

Another study using administrative data on a cohort of high school CTE concentrators from Washington State found that CTE learners who go on to college, compared to non-CTE learners, are significantly more likely to enroll in and complete vocational programs. They are also more likely to earn postsecondary credentials such as associate degrees and industry certifications, especially in the applied Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and public safety fields. Additionally, secondary CTE learners who do not go on to college are also more likely to obtain full-time employment within the first three years after graduation compared to non-CTE learners. 

Lastly, a study of admissions and learner outcomes within Connecticut’s system of 16 stand-alone CTE high schools found that males who attend a technical high school are 10 percentage points more likely to graduate than comparable males who attend a traditional high school. Male learners attending technical high schools in Connecticut also have approximately 31 percent greater post-graduation quarterly earnings, higher 9th grade attendance rates and higher 10th grade testing scores than comparable males. There was no evidence that female learners had significantly different outcomes based on the type of school attended. 

As CTE month comes to a close and states finalize their Perkins V plans and invest substantial resources in CTE programs, the findings in these three studies highlight the value that CTE programs have in positive academic and employment outcomes for learners. Additionally, these findings reaffirm the value CTE programs have in preparing learners for the real world and the many postsecondary paths they can pursue. The Washington State and Connecticut studies found that CTE concentrators were slightly less likely to go on to college than comparable learners but still more likely to earn vocational credentials, obtain full-time employment with higher earnings, and have better attendance and test scores than comparable learners. State leaders are encouraged to continue investing in these programs proving to work for learners in their states. 

Other Notable Research 

A report on Idaho’s education and earnings gap revealed that those with bachelor’s degrees earn substantially more in income than those with less education. Among its recommendations, the report suggests the state adopt explicit policies encouraging school districts to develop secondary CTE course sequences or certified programs focusing on two to three specific career pathways that play to their local strengths. 

Brian Robinson, Policy Associate

New Survey Highlights a Persistent Skills Gap; What Can States Do to Strengthen the Talent Pool?

February 18th, 2020

As the economy continues to change with digitalization and automation, the needs of the labor market will continue to change too. In 2019 the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation commissioned a study surveying 500 human resource (HR) professionals with hiring decision authority in their organizations. An overwhelming 74 percent of respondents said that a “skills gap” persists in the current U.S. labor and hiring economy. 

These employers cite three major challenges they face when hiring: candidates lacking the appropriate or necessary skills, candidates lacking previous relevant work experience and not having enough applicants. According to these HR professionals, addressing the skills gap and truly transforming the talent marketplace would require:

1)      Greater upskilling initiatives within companies for existing employees.

2)      More educational/Career Technical Education (CTE) programs to build talent pipelines.

3)      Improving alignment between skills and competencies taught in educational/CTE programs and in-demand skills and competencies needed in the workforce.

A study by JFF further highlights the skills gap and the challenges to solving the problem. The report, Making College Work for Students and the Economy, follows JFF’s comprehensive policy agenda for addressing states’ skilled workforce and talent development needs.  The report examines a representative sample of 15 states to determine their progress toward adopting 15 policy recommendations. Of the recommendations made in their initial report, states have made the most progress on the following:

1)      Establishing expectations that community college programs align to labor market demand.

2)      Developing longitudinal data systems that provide the ability to track over time the educational and employment outcomes of students.

3)      Addressing barriers to college readiness.

Conversely, JFF finds that states have the most work to do in the following areas:

1)      Providing community colleges with sufficient resources and appropriate incentives.

2)      Addressing the holistic needs of students to strengthen their financial stability.

3)      Digging into labor market outcomes of students and postsecondary programs.

Both the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and the JFF studies highlight a need for state governments, the education sector and the labor sector to work collaboratively and do more to prepare the 21st century workforce to meet the needs of an ever-changing labor market. 

With implementation of the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V) underway, states are poised to make transformational changes to improve the quality of CTE programs and ensure equitable access and success. Opportunities like the comprehensive local needs assessment and the Perkins V reserve fund give state leaders leverage to ensure programs are meeting the needs of learners and employers.

Research Roundup

  • The University of Michigan Youth Policy Lab released a report last month finding disparities in access to CTE programs for economically disadvantaged learners and learners of color throughout the state. However, the report found that when CTE is offered in a single high school, there is very little disparity. This suggests that there is broad interest in CTE programs when offered and that states should do more to expand access for low-income and Black and Hispanic learners.
  • A report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce finds that students enrolled in certificate and associate degree programs make up 50 percent of the postsecondary student population. Students graduating with certificates in fields such as engineering and drafting can earn a median income up to $150,000. Black, Hispanic and low-income students were most likely to enroll in a certificate program. These findings suggest that certificate and associate degree programs can have great potential in closing earnings and opportunity gaps.

Brian Robinson, Policy Associate

Partnering with Researchers Can Help State Leaders Build the Case for CTE

November 12th, 2019

In Massachusetts, Career/Vocational Technical Education Schools (CVTE) are renowned for offering rigorous, high-quality programs of study across a variety of disciplines. While CVTE graduates have always experienced high rates of success academically and in their careers, state leaders in Massachusetts wanted to know whether these outcomes directly result from the CVTE model. In 2017, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education partnered with Shaun Dougherty (at the time, a researcher at the University of Connecticut), and learned that CVTE students are significantly more likely to graduate from high school and earn an industry-recognized credential than similar students who were not admitted.

Demand for rigorous research on Career Technical Education (CTE) has increased as more policymakers ask questions about the impact on college and career readiness. State CTE Directors may be interested in similar questions as researchers (such as “Does CTE improve educational and career outcomes? Do different programs help different students? What types of programs offer students the highest economic returns?”) but may not think to seek out and collaborate with them or know how to prioritize among the many research requests they receive.

This blog series, a partnership between Advance CTE and the Institute for Education Sciences (IES) seeks to break down the barriers between State CTE Directors and researchers to encourage partnerships that can benefit both.

What Can Research with State Data Tell Us?

Research can be a powerful tool to help State CTE Directors understand what’s working, what isn’t working, and what needs to change. The findings described below provide examples of how strong partnerships between researchers and state policymakers can result in actionable research.

  • In Arkansas, students with greater exposure to CTE are more likely to graduate from high school, enroll in a two-year college, be employed, and earn higher wages. The study, which was rigorous but not causal, also found that students taking more CTE classes are just as likely to pursue a four-year degree as their peers, and that CTE provides the greatest boost to boys and students from low-income families.
  • Boys who attended CTE high schools in Connecticut experienced higher graduation rates and post-graduation earnings than similar students who did not attend CTE high schools. Further follow-ups using both postsecondary and labor data could provide information about college completion and employment and earnings for different occupational sectors.
  • CTE concentrators in Texas had greater enrollment and persistence in college than their peers. Although rates of CTE concentration decreased, student participation in at least some CTE programming, as well as number of CTE credits earned, increased between the 2008 and 2014 cohorts. Unsurprisingly, the study also found differences by CTE programs of study. Education & Training; Finance; Health Science; and Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) were most strongly associated with postsecondary enrollment, particularly in baccalaureate programs.

How Can States Use CTE Research to Improve Policy and Practice?

Here are a few things states can do today to start building a CTE research base:

  • Create a codebook of CTE variables in your state’s data system: Include K-12, postsecondary, and labor force variables if you have them. Define the variables clearly – what do they measure, at what level (student, program, district), and for how many years did you collect these variables? Are the measures comparable across years and across datasets?
  • Maximize opportunities to collect longitudinal data: longitudinal databases that span education levels and connect to workforce outcomes permit researchers to conduct rigorous studies on long-term outcomes.
  • Identify universities in your state with strong education, economics or public policy departments: Make a list of questions that policymakers in your state most wanted answered, and then approach universities with these proactively. Reach out to the chair(s) of these departments to connect with faculty who may be interested in partnering on answering the questions. Universities can often apply for a research grant that will cover part or all of the funding for state personnel to work on the research project. IES, which provides funding of this nature, opens its next grant competition in summer 2020.
  • Reach out to your Regional Educational Lab (REL) or the REL Career Readiness Research Alliance to inquire about partnering on CTE research: The mission of these IES-funded labs is to provide research and evidence to help educators in the states in their region. For example, REL Central is currently working with four states to replicate the Arkansas study described above (see “Review of Career and Technical Education in Four States”).
  • Stay up to date on the latest research findings in CTE: New research is regularly posted on the CTE Research Network and other websites. This can help you get ideas for what types of research you would like to conduct in your state. Another good source of inspiration is the recommendations of the CTE technical workgroup, which was convened by IES in late 2017 to guide future CTE research directions.
  • Become familiar with how researchers approach CTE research: Learn about why it’s so challenging to understand its impact. The CTE Research Network will hold research trainings for different audiences—including state agency staff— beginning in the summer of 2020. Stay tuned!

Over the next several months, Advance CTE and IES will publish a series of Q&A blog posts with researchers and state CTE leaders talking about how their partnerships developed and what states can do to advance CTE research.

This blog series was co-authored by Corinne Alfeld at IES (corinne.alfeld@ed.gov) and Austin Estes from Advance CTE (aestes@careertech.org), with thanks to Steve Klein of Education Northwest for editorial suggestions. IES began funding research grants in CTE in 2017 and established a CTE Research Network in 2018. IES hopes to encourage more research on CTE in the coming years in order to increase the evidence base and guide program and policy decisions. At the same time, Advance CTE has been providing resources to help states improve their CTE data quality and use data more effectively to improve CTE program quality and equity.

How to Prepare for the Future of Work

March 5th, 2019

Economists and futurists no longer ask what the future of work will look like, but rather when it will come and how disruptive it will be. Automation, artificial intelligence and other technological advancements are in the workplace today. Some say that innovations should be embraced and, like technological advancements in the past, the average American, and the economy as a whole, will be better off. Others issue dire warnings that automation and robotics will render many occupations obsolete and displace millions of American workers.

So which is it? The rose or the thorns?

The answer is, it’s complicated. According to the World Economic Forum, automation is expected to displace 75 million workers around the world by 2022. That’s a staggering sum — and in just four years. But the same report predicts that 133 million jobs will be created during the same period. What is almost certain is that, in the next few years, the world economy — and by extension, the American workforce — will experience a significant transformation as businesses adopt new technologies and American workers adapt and reskill to fill new jobs.

A new study out of the Boston University School of Law illuminates potential impacts of automation by examining survey data for non-financial private firms in the Netherlands. The researchers obtained data on automation expenditures for more than 36,000 firms over a 16 year period, from 2000 to 2016, in order to measure the effects of automation on employment and wages.

The researchers estimate that wages decreased for incumbent workers by about 8.2 percent over five years as a result of automation. However, recent hires experienced no wage loss and even earned 4.4 percent higher income over five years. It follows that the impact of automation will be more severe for older, more experienced workers, who at best will experience shifts in their day to day tasks and at worst will need to pursue further education, training and credentials to adapt.

For policymakers and economists, this begs the question: can anything be done to prepare for automation and new technology in the workplace?

The Brookings Institute recommends five actions to prepare for the future of work:

  • Embrace growth and technology, which will encourage firms to step up hiring and training new workers as the economy heats up;  
  • Promote a constant learning mindset by expanding traditional education, reducing the financial burden for skill attainment, and fostering employer-sponsored learning opportunities;
  • Facilitate a smoother adjustment by investing in career counseling, retraining opportunities and unemployment support for displaced workers;
  • Reduce hardships for workers who are struggling through the expansion of state and federal safety net programs;
  • Mitigate harsh local impacts by expanding support to vulnerable regions and communities that may be hardest hit.

Automation and artificial intelligence in the workplace will augment human skill and improve productivity. New technologies like autonomous vehicles and voice recognition will make it easier for all individuals — particularly individuals with disabilities — to access work and participate in civil society. But the future of work will likely bring with it disruption and displacement, and this burden will be disproportionately borne by workers in particular industries, occupations and geographic regions. Federal, state and local policymakers should consider clear strategies to prepare for the future of work. The time to act is now.

Research Roundup

Meanwhile, here is the latest roundup of research and data related to Career Technical Education (CTE):

  • There’s a racial gap in CTE enrollment. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that, according to high school transcript data, white students earned more (3.2) CTE credits on average than black (2.9), Hispanic (2.6), Asian (2.2) and mixed race (2.9) students.
  • The American Association of Community Colleges developed an infographic based on a recent Pew Research Center study that depicts the different post-high school plans of today’s teens. One notable takeaway: 12 percent of teens plan to attend a two-year college and 4 percent plan to attend a technical or vocational school after high school. 
  • Skills training is pretty popular with American voters. According to polling from ALG Research, with support from the National Skills Coalition, 93 percent of likely 2020 voters support increasing investments in skills and technical training.
  • It’s not just you — CTE is getting more popular. The American Enterprise Institute looked at media mentions of CTE between 2012 and 2018 and found that the number of articles mentioning CTE has increased by more than a hundredfold in that time.

Austin Estes, Senior Policy Associate

Work-based Learning is Predictive of Future Job Quality, According to New Study

December 10th, 2018

The Brookings Institution looks at employment outcomes for low-income learners

It’s a question that has puzzled education researchers for decades: what is the right mix of experiences in early adolescence that is most predictive of future career success and lifelong learning?

For the longest time, the rule of thumb has been “get a bachelor’s degree and you’ll get a good job.” But we know that there are other experiences on the path to a four-year degree (such as participating in work-based learning or earning an industry-recognized credential) that are just as powerful in preparing learners for their future careers. What are these experiences? And how should they be delivered to maximize learner outcomes?

New research from the Brookings Institution sheds a little bit of light on this question. The study looks at different factors that are correlated with economic success among 29-year-olds from “disadvantaged” backgrounds. The study finds that:

  • Participating in work-based learning is correlated with attainment of “high-quality” jobs later in life
  • Working (and earning high wages) at a young age predicts higher job quality in adulthood
  • Earning credentials is still the biggest predictor of career success, but sub-baccalaureate credentials are also important

Specifically, the researchers find that participating in “relationship-focused CTE” (a term they use to refer to work-based learning and other activities where students interact with industry mentors) is significantly related to higher job quality scores at age 29. This would seem to suggest that building relationships with industry mentors and completing work-based learning at an early age can help learners, particularly low-income learners, get a leg up on their careers. While the data do not provide a full picture of the quality of work-based learning in the study, the evidence is promising.

For the purpose of the study, the researchers define “disadvantaged adolescents” as those who, when they were between the ages of 12 and 18, had a family income equal to or less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line; did not have a parent with more than a high school education; had a mother who was a teenager when her first child was born; or whose family received public assistance. They defined job quality based on four factors: earnings, benefits, hours of work and job satisfaction.

CTE Research Roundup

  • In a new research brief, MDRC summarizes findings from studies of three different career-focused learning programs: New York City’s Young Adult Internship Program (YAIP), YouthBuild and Year Up. Using a random assignment research design, the researchers find significant positive wage increases for completers of each program.
  • JFF explores how the scope and length of Registered Apprenticeships can vary and poses the question: Are apprenticeships the next stackable credential?
  • The NewDeal Forum Working Group, a national network of state and local leaders, published recommendations for policymakers to help the economy adapt to the future of work. The report includes recommendations for skill development and workforce training; modernizing the social safety net; and supporting entrepreneurship, innovation and access.  
  • Mathematica Policy Research shares an update on new partnerships and research focused on pathways to postsecondary education, including an examination of free tuition programs for adult learners, a study of the Better Careers initiative in California, and research into community college career planning through the Working Student Success Network. Keep an eye out for future research.
  • A new study from JFF looks at Maine’s proficiency-based education system and finds some promising early results. According to the study, high school students who received a medium amount of exposure to proficiency-based education had significantly higher reported engagement; however, exposure to proficiency-based education was negatively correlated with SAT scores.

Austin Estes, Senior Policy Associate

New Research Sheds Light on the Value of Credentials, Dual Credit and Apprenticeships

August 23rd, 2018

It is common knowledge that earning a postsecondary credential, particularly in a high-skill, high-wage, in-demand industry, can help learners land good jobs. But how do learners get there? New research sheds light on the different pathways learners take to get to a good job and the economic returns of credential attainment.

$224 million a year. That’s how much more money the most recent cohort of graduates from Tennessee public colleges and universities can expect to make every year compared to non-credential holders. That figure comes from a new report published by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development in June. The report attributes much of the wage gains to the impact of community and technical colleges across Tennessee.

While a postsecondary credential pays a premium for graduates, many learners work through college. In fact, according to a new brief from the National Center for Education Statistics, 32 percent of students at public 2-year colleges worked full-time while enrolled in the 2011-12 school year. The study also finds that students were more likely to complete a degree if they worked 20 hours or less a week compared to students who worked full time or did not work at all. The study did not say whether or not these students were working in fields related to their program of study, however.

Learners can start working on their postsecondary credential even before they graduate high school. New research from the University of Texas system shows just how much of an impact dual enrollment has for Texas students. According to the study, dual credit students had higher college graduation rates and higher GPAs than their peers. And students who entered the University of Texas system with credits from both Advanced Placement and dual credit classes were five times as likely as their peers to graduate in four years.

Yet learners often do not complete their credential at their initial institution. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 38 percent – or 1,069,243 students – in the fall 2011 cohort transferred within six years. The study also revealed this startling statistic: only 5.6 percent of transfers from two-year colleges leave with a certificate or associate degree.

Postsecondary credentials reinforce the technical and academic skills learners will exercise in their future careers. But employers often look for candidates with a more rounded skill set that can only be learned through experience. A new survey from Bloomberg Next finds that 43 percent of employers say new recruits lack the soft skills to be effective, skills like teamwork, critical thinking and adaptability.

One way to build these skills is through work-based learning experiences like internships and apprenticeships. Adults in the U.S. are increasingly recognizing the value of apprenticeships. The American Staffing Association reports that 94 percent of Americans say that apprenticeships are helpful in leading to a new career and 62 percent even think apprenticeships make people more employable than going to college.

At any rate, learners have multiple pathways to lifelong career success – be it through an apprenticeship, a two-year college or a four-year university – and should be empowered to choose the path that is right for them.

Austin Estes, Senior Policy Associate

More Evidence Demonstrates How Postsecondary Credentials Can Help Learners Unlock Career Opportunities

June 11th, 2018

Earning a credential of value is still the surest path to success for American workers. A recent New America poll released last month finds that 80 percent of American adults believe there are more opportunities for those who pursue education after high school, compared to 14 percent who think it is better to enter the workforce right away.

For adult learners, the connection between education and careers is even more important. According to Public Agenda, 71 percent of adult prospective students — those who are actively working to go back to school — say that their primary motivation is either to get ahead in their current career or to get the skills they need to start a new career.

Studying the return on investment for credential earners can be quite an undertaking, however, considering the vast number and types of credentials on the market today. Credential Engine, a nonprofit dedicated to counting and cataloging every credential, estimated in April that there are more than 330,000 individual credentials available in the United States today, and only a fraction of them are available at four-year institutions. That count includes nearly 67,000 postsecondary certificates, 13,600 Registered Apprenticeships and 5,400 certifications.

It is well understood that a university education can improve career opportunities. But where to start? Does major matter? And what is the return on investment for other sub-baccalaureate credentials like associate degrees, postsecondary certificates and industry certifications?

More Advanced Credentials Lead to Higher Earnings, but Field of Study Matters

With so many credentials on the market, how can learners navigate the education marketplace and find the credential that best suits their career interests and economic goals?

New research out of the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce helps us begin to demystify the credential marketplace.

The report finds that, while median income rises with more advanced credentials, the field of study matters a lot. A bachelor’s degree in architecture and engineering, for example, will land you a median salary of $85,000, far above the $46,000 median salary for education majors. Further, less education can even lead to higher earnings, depending on the field of study. Associate degree holders who study science, technology, mathematics and engineering (STEM) earn a median salary $13,000 higher than workers with bachelor’s degrees in psychology & social work. Certainly, credentials help learners unlock career success and earn a family sustaining wage, but field of study is far more important than level of education.  

A separate Georgetown study puts a magnifying glass up to one particular type of credential,  postsecondary certifications, examining earnings for individuals who earned a certification at an Oregon community college. The study finds that, on average, certification earners experienced a 19 percent increase in earnings. And Pell students experience an even larger premium, more than 50 percent of their wages prior to enrollment, further demonstrating the power of short-term certifications to provide an on-ramp to a sustainable career.

How Can States Help Learners Navigate the Credential Environment?

As the universe of postsecondary credentials continues to grow, learners will need support and guidance to help determine which credentials to pursue and where to pursue them. Already, a number of states have developed protocols to review, verify and publish a list of high-quality, industry-recognized credentials for secondary and postsecondary students. A new 50-state scan from the Workforce Data Quality Campaign finds that 30 states identify or plan to identify credentials of value at the state level. However, only 23 states report that they analyze employment and earnings outcomes and only 21 seek regular employer input.

If credentials are going to deliver on their promise, the credentialing system must be transparent and learners must be able to know which credentials are valued in the marketplace and recognized by employers. It is important for states to set up systems to regularly gather and put to use employer input. The evidence is encouraging, but there is still a lot of work to do to help demystify the credentialing marketplace and empower learners to achieve their career goals.

To learn more about credentials of value or state strategies to promote high-quality credentials, visit the Learning that Works Resource Center.

Austin Estes, Senior Policy Associate

Utah Valley University Charges Forward as a Dual-Role Community College and University

February 13th, 2018

Numerous states have begun to allow community colleges to grant four-year degrees. These changes have led to concerns over “credential creep,” where institution leaders push for the increased perception of prestige that advanced postsecondary degree offerings provide them, and neglect their CTE programs. This article from Inside Higher Ed highlights the work being done at Utah Valley University to maintain focus on providing high-quality degree programs, whether they be two- or four-year degrees.

The institution implemented a “structured enrollment” approach to preserve its open-door admissions policy. This approach enrolls underprepared students in one-year certificate programs that include numerous student support services. From there, students can enroll in a two-year degree program and eventually a four-year program, all within the same institution. “The certificates and degrees stack on top of each other, thus all credits move up with the student. For example, all of the certificate classes are required in the associate’s degree, and all of the associate classes are required in the bachelor’s degree,” a university spokesman said via email. “If the student doesn’t do well in the certificate track, university counselors will circle back to try to find a better fit.”

Report Offers Recommendations for Using Data and Evidence to Improve Student Outcomes

Colleges have long been working to use data more effectively to analyze and improve student outcomes. However, these efforts have often been the responsibility of individual institutions or systems, and are dependent on the resources available for data analysis and new technologies. A new report from Results for America offers recommendations for state governments to become more involved in these initiatives. Their recommendations fall into three categories:

  1. Improve measures of student success
    • Improve the accuracy of graduation rates
    • Publish employment outcomes by major
    • Develop measures of learning and civic outcomes
  2. Help colleges act on and analyze data
    • Invest in the data capacities of colleges
    • Generate evidence of what works
    • Kickstart evidence-based improvements
  3. Align resources behind student success
    • Make payoffs clear and certain
    • Prioritize equity
    • Consider post-graduation goals
    • Consider additional strategies to help low-performing colleges

White Paper Examines Overlap between Afterschool Programs and Workforce Development

The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF) recently published a new white paper highlighting the shared goals and opportunities for collaboration between afterschool programs and workforce development initiatives. While both youth and workforce development initiatives implement programs and activities to help youth develop skills and competencies for the world of work, they often operate in separate and disconnected silos.

For example, afterschool programs have long focused on building the social and emotional skills of students, skills which also contribute to employability readiness. “Participation in high-quality afterschool programs has a positive impact on problem-solving, conflict resolution, self-control, leadership, and responsible decision-making, all of which are included within the employability and [social emotional learning] frameworks.” If efforts are better aligned and resources more coordinated, more of this training can be implemented.

The white paper examines case studies in Florida, Pennsylvania and Illinois and from those extrapolates recommendations for further collaboration between the two types of initiatives.

Odds and Ends

This report from AEI examines common barriers for providing high-quality CTE at community colleges and suggest five strategies for overcoming those barriers, most of which are structural and policy barriers, but also include the perceived stigma of CTE.

The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) recently launched this video highlighting the problem of “The Forgotten 500,000” – the 500,000 students who are in the top half of their high school classes but do not go on to complete a postsecondary certificate or credential. Among other recommendations, CEW believes this problem can be solved by tying education more deliberately to career pathways.

The American Institutes for Research released this infographic highlighting the importance of using CTE as a strategy for students with disabilities. Students with disabilities who are CTE concentrators are five percent more likely to graduate high school on time and 20 percent more likely to be employed after graduation.

Ashleigh McFadden, State Policy Manager

 

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