New Study Examines Return on Investment for Career and Technical Education, Workforce Development Programs

New Study Examines Return on Investment for Career and Technical Education, Workforce Development Programs

Louisville, KY

The National Research Center for Career and Technical Education (NRCCTE) has released Conducting Return on Investment Analyses for Secondary and Postsecondary CTE: A Framework, a specially commissioned study written by Kevin M. Hollenbeck of the W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. This study extends Hollenbeck’s recent work estimating the rate of return for workforce development programs, including secondary and postsecondary career and technical education (CTE), in Washington state.

CTE’s role in connecting secondary education with workforce development has long been recognized, but CTE evaluation systems have struggled to offer objective evidence to determine how CTE adds value to the U.S. economy. Return on investment (ROI) studies may help the field accomplish this.

In this study, Hollenbeck calculated ROI based on estimates of the net impact of CTE on individuals’ labor market experiences and government income supports after participating in CTE or workforce development programs. He found that participants in CTE programs reaped substantial returns—positive earnings—with almost nil or negative costs for secondary CTE. At the postsecondary level, the economic payoffs of participating in CTE outweighed, even over theshort term, any associated participation costs like tuition or foregone earnings.

ROI analyses have been used in recent reports by research and policy organizations like the Center for American Progress and the Alliance for Excellent Education to show how investments in public education pay off in significant returns to the nation’s economy. Because many states and districts that could benefit from ROI analyses may find it difficult to conduct them, the NRCCTE seeks to help them make the strongest case for CTE.

“Although studies like Hollenbeck’s represent the best way to conduct ROI, for many in CTE, implementing such techniques is difficult, particularly when budgets are tight. The field often has difficulty meeting the preconditions for rigorous ROI and needs to find less stringent alternatives without sacrificing rigor. The NRCCTE is exploring such alternatives with its ROI guidebook and its work with national CTE datasets,” said NRCCTE Deputy Director Pradeep Kotamraju.

Conducting Return on Investment Analyses for Secondary and Postsecondary CTE: A Framework is available for download from the NRCCTE website:

Kirsten Sundell
Communications Director

Lauren Schultz
Research Center Coordinator

About the NRCCTE

The National Research Center for Career and Technical Education (NRCCTE) is the primary agent for generating scientifically based knowledge, dissemination, professional development, and technical assistance to improve career and technical education (CTE) in the United States. The NRCCTE works to improve the engagement, achievement, and transition of high school and postsecondary CTE students through technical assistance to states, professional development for CTE practitioners, and dissemination of knowledge derived from scientifically based research. The NRCCTE is funded by the Office of Vocational and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education.