This study draws on data from the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002, a US Department of Education survey that followed more than 15,000 American 10th graders for a decade, from 2002 through 2012. The data contain measures of noncognitive skills, such as student self-reports of self-efficacy in academics, teacher reports of student behavior, and observed levels of student conscientiousness and self-control (as measured by survey effort).
The study examine two groups of CTE students: students in traditional comprehensive high schools who take CTE courses and students who enroll in stand-alone vocational-technical schools. The analysis compares these groups of students to students who took few to no CTE courses in high school. In traditional comprehensive high schools, students with lower test scores in math and reading are more likely to take large numbers of CTE courses. Yet once we control for test scores, CTE course takers are less likely to drop out of high school and on average have higher annual earnings by their mid-20s than students who take few or no CTE courses. Students who attend vocational-technical schools also have test scores lower than the traditional high school student who takes few to zero CTE courses. Yet compared to these traditional high school students, students at vocational-technical schools are more likely to be employed full time by young adulthood and, hence, appear to have higher annual earnings.
What can explain this difference in long-term outcomes? The study finds that CTE course takers have other non - cognitive skills that are higher than otherwise-similar students. Based on behavioral measures of noncognitive skills, CTE students exhibit more effort on routine tasks. According to teacher reports of student behavior, CTE students are just as attentive as their peers, just as likely to complete their homework, and much less likely to be absent from class. In sum, CTE course takers have on average higher noncognitive skills, compared to otherwise-similar students. This conclusion belies the image of these students as unmotivated and unfocused, and it belies the stereotype that CTE programs recruit substandard students. To assess the true value of CTE programs, one should look beyond their participants’ test scores.