Transition from High School to College and Work for Tech Prep Participants In Eight Selected Consortia
Debra D. Bragg
Jane W. Loeb
Jerry L. Hill
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
This 4-year longitudinal study examines student experiences and outcomes in local tech prep consortia in eight different regions of the country. The study provides a quantitative analysis of students’ experiences as participants in tech prep programs,1 as well as their post-high-school educational and employment outcomes. Findings are presented for students identified locally as participants in tech prep programs, referred to as tech prep participants, as compared to a group of students drawn from the general student population with similar academic performance at high school graduation, referred to as non-participants. The study was undertaken to address fundamental questions about student involvement in tech prep programs and students’ educational and employment outcomes after high school. Considering the federal commitment to tech prep implementation, beginning with the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act of 1990 (Perkins II), it is vitally important to understand various ways these programs have engaged and influenced student outcomes.
Questions addressing student transition to college and work after high school were at the forefront of this quantitative analysis because few studies have examined how tech prep programs influenced students’ further education and work after high school graduation. Recognizing that a key feature of tech prep programs is the articulation of secondary and postsecondary curricula and preparation for future technical careers, a longitudinal study was needed to follow students from high school to college and into employment over an extended period of time.
The research design was mixed-method, allowing for a dominant and less-dominant approach (Creswell, 1994). From January 1998 through December 2001, we undertook a longitudinal causal-comparative assessment of student outcomes, drawing heavily upon transcript analysis (high school and college) and two surveys with tech prep participants and non-participants. Because of the unique policies and approaches in each site, our data analysis was conducted on a consortium-by-consortium basis, with cross-consortium results presented in the main text in narrative and figures, and supporting tables displayed by consortia in Appendixes A–O. All data presented in this report are maintained in the Community College and Beyond (CC&B) dataset at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), providing a rich source of information for further analysis of students’ transitions from high school to college and work.
This report presents results pertaining to eight local consortia of schools, and, when appropriate, attributes particular outcomes to the models utilized by these consortia. Specific results associated with only one or a few consortia are given when they seem to illuminate the merits of a particular model or strategy that could be meaningful to future policy and practice. Otherwise, the results summarized herein reflect a more predominant pattern of results occurring across at least half of the sites.
Major Results and Implications for Policy and Practice
First, students who participate in tech prep programs do not differ substantially on race/ethnicity, income, and parental education from the comparison group of students who represent a general student population that achieved similarly to the tech prep group at high school graduation. Even so, family income and parental education was somewhat lower for tech prep participants than non-participants, suggesting some tech prep-students lack the economic and cultural capital (Labaree, 1997) reflected in the general student population. Gender emerged as a variable on which tech prep-participants differed from their peers in four consortia, favoring participation by males in all cases. This result was attributable largely to a preponderance of traditionally male-oriented career-technical education (CTE) specializations linked to tech prep.
The CTE programs that enrolled males in larger numbers than females are not surprising, including computer technologies, electronics, manufacturing, engineering, and trade and industrial occupations. Recognizing that, according to federal law, tech prep programs require equal access by all students, including members of special populations, it is important that local personnel continue to insure equitable demographic representation among participants.
Tech prep-participants often display classic characteristics associated with at-risk behavior at the college level, including first-generation college enrollment and part-time enrollment balanced against part-time or full-time work (Tinto, 1997). Undoubtedly, these factors could jeopardize the ability of tech prep participants to persist in college, assuming they enroll in college after high school graduation. Further, a sizeable proportion of tech prep participants came from low-income families, and a few had already assumed the role of single parent. These student characteristics are known to place students at risk of dropping out of college (see, for example, Tinto, 1997), increasing the importance of having local personnel pay close attention to the school-to-college transition process for all students—particularly those who are more likely to drop out.
Secondary education and tech prep participation varied widely from consortium to consortium, making it difficult to formulate definitive conclusions about particular models or approaches. Acknowledging this, our results support the notion that school and consortium requirements influence student participation in core academic courses relative to tech prep programs of study. For example, tech prep consortia deliberately associating themselves with college prep requirements in subjects such as math and science seem to encourage students to engage in math- and science-course-taking more intensively and extensively than tech prep consortia that do not associate with these requirements.
Relative to non-participants, tech prep-participants in some consortia see benefits when more rigorous academic course-taking is required. Admittedly, these results are very difficult to disentangle from other factors that influence students’ educational experiences, largely because many of the consortia were located in states that had raised high school graduation requirements during the 1990s, when this longitudinal study was undertaken. Even so, it is likely that establishing high school graduation requirements for tech prep core curricula that are associated with collegiate requirements has a positive influence on academic course-taking for tech prep participants. This finding suggests that it is incumbent upon school personnel to link tech prep core curricula to high school graduation requirements that go beyond the basic minimum requirements and ready students for college entrance. In consortia where the linkage between tech prep requirements and advanced academic requirements did not occur, tech prep students were less likely to move into more advanced academic curricula than tech prep participants in consortia where this requirement occurred. In a related finding, a few consortia showed that tech prep-participants need not be disadvantaged in fulfilling a college prep program of study if participating in intensive CTE course-taking.
Looking at academic course-taking (amount and level) in greater depth, four consortia showed group differences in the amount of high school math courses taken, with tech prep participants in one site taking more semesters than non-participants, but non-participants exceeding tech prep participants in the other three. In examining the level of math course taking, however, we found tech prep participants taking slightly more advanced math courses over their high school careers than their non-participant peers in four consortia. In one noteworthy case, tech prep participants started math at a lower level (45% in basic math) and finished at a higher level (87% in Algebra II or higher) than the non-participant group.
Group differences were also evident in the amount of science courses taken in seven consortia. Specifically, non-participants exceeded tech prep participants in the total semesters of science taken in five consortia, but in two sites (one consortium and one high school within a consortium), tech prep participants took more science than non-participants. Most students in both study groups were taking mostly regular science (e.g., biology, chemistry). In a few consortia, tech prep participants were taking more lower-level science courses than nonparticipants, but in most consortia, the differences between groups was related to differences in the proportion of students taking regular, regular honors, and physics courses—all of which are well beyond a basic level.
Looking at career-technical course-taking, tech prep participants were much more likely to be vocational concentrators than non-participants, as evidenced by 61% of all tech prep participants and 36% of non-participants meeting this vocational classification in five sites. (Vocational concentrators take three or more Carnegie units in one career path or CTE cluster area). Specialization in one career area beyond the concentration level, referred to as vocational specializer (having four or more Carnegie units in a particular CTE area), was observed less frequently, but it was apparent in five sites. In one of these, tech prep participants were nearly as likely to be vocational specializers as concentrators, indicating these students were amassing a substantial amount of knowledge and skills pertaining to a particular vocational specialization.
Career-technical education (CTE) course-taking was enhanced by the tech prep model in most sites, if judged by the level of secondary enrollment in CTE courses, including CTE courses articulated with a local college. Several forms of work-based learning, such as co-op and job shadowing, were prominent among tech prep participants, suggesting students who engaged in tech prep were more likely to be involved in intensive learning experiences related to careers—both in the classroom and off campus. An association was also found between tech prep sites and service learning/community service, indicating greater involvement among nonparticipants.
Work during high school was prevalent for both groups, suggesting that students begin juggling school, work, and personal commitments very early in their educational lives. Articulated course-taking occurred in CTE areas, with the most prevalent vocational areas being business, mechanics/repair, and precision production in five consortia. Articulated coursetaking was substantial for tech prep participants in these five sites, ranging from 65% to 91% for tech prep participants, and 31% to 76% for non-participants. In four of these sites, participants in tech prep were more likely to take articulated courses than non-participants. Among all students who took articulated courses, tech prep participants took significantly more semesters, on average, than non-participants.
Differences between the study groups in the incidence of participation in college prep was evident in five consortia. Non-participants were more likely be designated college prep than members of the tech prep group in four of the sites. Relationships were found between tech prep status and college prep and vocational status in five sites. In most of these, a greater likelihood of vocational concentration was evident if students (either tech prep or non-tech prep) were not college prep. However, three consortia showed no association among these variables, suggesting tech prep participants who were vocational concentrators were no more or less likely to be college prep students than non-participants.
Recognizing that many students selected for this study are labeled “non-college bound,” the proportion of students in each group that went on to college at the 2-year and 4-year college levels is astounding. Indeed, the percentage of students attending college at the 2-year level was quite high, with over 80% of the tech prep participants in six consortia, and close to that percentage or higher for the non-participant group in five consortia. Enrollment of tech prep participants exceeded non-participants in seven consortia, but the difference between groups was usually small, with a significant difference evident in only two sites. Results confirm earlier findings of Boesel and Fredland (1999) and others, suggesting that “college for all” is more than a catchy phrase.
Tech prep participants show a slight preference for attending 2-year colleges compared to their non-participant peers, but, again, this is not surprising given the focus of articulated course-taking that emphasizes sequenced course work extending from high school to community colleges. What seems more interesting is the incidence with which tech prep participants attend both 2-year and 4-year colleges, and 4-year only. Attendance at 4-year college is particularly evident among tech prep participants living in localities where higher education options are plentiful, suggesting consortia located in urban or suburban areas with a dense higher education market may benefit from building relationships with a wide range of higher education institutions, utilizing tech prep as a launching point for a wide variety of postsecondary opportunities.
Though the accumulated hours of college credit did not differ for the two groups in most consortia, a difference was revealed in two consortia where tech prep participants earned more college-level hours than non-participants, and these results held after controlling for differences in panel affiliation (95, 96, or 97).
Completion of a college degree (AA, AS, or AAS) or certificate was not a common occurrence for students in any consortium, regardless of tech prep status. The median percentage of students earning some credential was only 10.5%, after 3 or 4 years of high school graduation for most students. Indeed, most consortia reported a modest range of completers, at 8.5% to 11.7%.
College enrollment among tech prep participants involved fairly substantial continuation of CTE course-taking, suggesting that if students finish a tech program in high school and enroll at the lead college within a few years, they are likely to continue enrollment in a tech prep program at the postsecondary level. Continuing tech prep participation from the secondary to the postsecondary level ranged from only 16.5% in one consortium to nearly 90% in another, with three consortia showing from 31% to 38% of their high school tech prep participant group continuing tech prep at the lead college. Of tech prep participants who transitioned to the lead college, typically over one half continued to pursue a tech prep program of study, with participants in one consortium continuing at an astonishing rate of 95%.
Results suggest many students enroll at the college level, but few enroll for sufficient hours to finish a certificate or degree within 2 to 4 (and occasionally 5) years of high school graduation, and this result is consistent for both study groups, across all sites. These results also point to the importance of consortia encouraging high school tech prep participants to enroll in college, and supporting them in efforts to continue their education in tech prep career paths.
Once there, students are likely to continue the focus they developed in high school, but they need to be supported in pursuing consistent enrollment and credentials. Looking at college readiness among tech prep participants and non-participants, we learned that from 40% to nearly 80% of tech prep participants are placed into college-level course work overall, with an even wider range of college-level placement (nearly 30% to 76%) among nonparticipants. (This finding is based on the local institutional standard for college placement in career programs, which we referred to as the career standard. Using the transfer standard set by each institution, the vast majority of students (tech prep and non-tech prep) were not placed into college-level studies. One consortium was the exception, where slightly over half of both student groups were college ready.
When students failed a placement test, it was usually because they had difficulties with math, and this result was evident for both groups of students (tech prep and non-tech prep). Overall, completion rates of remedial/developmental and college-level hours were similar, on the average, and the averages ranged from about two thirds to four fifths, from site to site. Differences between participants and non-participants in completion rate were few, with no consistent tendency as to direction.
Finally, the pattern of holding a job during high school extends to college for most students, plus some students made a deliberate choice to enter employment full-time without enrolling in college. Students who work after high school typically take full-time jobs in relatively unskilled, low-wage jobs. There is evidence, however, that tech prep participants in some consortia are advancing beyond this level of employment, suggesting potential benefits for tech prep participants in the labor market. A combination of factors may contribute to this phenomenon, including the relevance of tech prep training to semi-skilled or technical employment that is above minimum wage, but also because more participants than non-participants spend time with one employer, moving up from unskilled jobs obtained during high school to semi-skilled jobs after high school graduation. Admittedly speculative, these and other factors may contribute to positive economic outcomes for tech prep participants as compared to non-participants. Furthermore, tech prep participants tended to report higher hourly earnings, but this result was significant in one consortium only.
Considering the enduring federal commitment to tech prep implementation beginning with the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act of 1990 (Perkins II), this study makes a valuable contribution to the literature because it advances knowledge of the various ways in which tech prep programs engage and influence students.
Bragg, D. D., Loeb, J. W., Gong, Y., Deng, C.-P., Yoo, J.-s., & Hill, J. L. (2002, November). Transition from high school to college and work for tech prep participants in eight selected consortia. St. Paul, MN: National Research Center for Career and Technical Education, University of Minnesota.