An analysis of California community college students earning CTE degrees reveals vocational education’s economic potential

CTE-degreesStudents who earn degrees in Career Technical Education (CTE) programs at California community colleges see an earnings increase of approximately 25 percent, according to a new policy brief from a team at the Center for Poverty Research at the University of California, Davis.

The brief, which used administrative data from California, found that the earnings gains from CTE and vocational certificates and degrees varied by course of study.

An associate’s degree increased earnings by an average of 33 percent, while shorter-term certificates increased earnings by an average of 13-22 percent.

Certificates in business or protective services offer earnings increases of 14 percent, while certificates in health increase earnings by 27 percent.

Women were more likely to enter health programs than men, and their income increased 42 percent with an associate’s degree, compared to 21 percent for men.

Sixty percent of students in health and protective services were white, compared to 50 percent in other programs, the study revealed, noting that overall, the return for white students earning an associate’s degree was 33 percent, compared to 29 percent for black students and 28 percent for Hispanic students.

Community colleges play an increasingly important role in the U.S. higher education system, reflected in President Obama’s America’s College Promise initiative, which would make two years of community college free for students who meet certain criteria.

CTE in particular is seeing renewed interest, with a California Community Colleges task force issuing 25 recommendations to increase and strengthen workforce education.

In California, two-thirds of all college students attend a community college, and the state’s 112 community colleges enroll more than 2.6 million students each year, according to the study.

A CTE course of study offers myriad potential benefits to students who are not likely to earn four-year degrees.

“Declining real wages and record high unemployment for those without college degrees, combined with cuts to many state programs serving these populations, make it essential to understand what programs can be most effective,” the authors note in the report.

“Information on the likely returns to specific programs … should be made available to CTE students so that they understand the likely financial outcomes and can choose programs that both fit their career goals and offer meaningful wage returns.”

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