Who Benefits from Postsecondary Occupational Education? Findings from the1980s and 1990s
Technological changes in the workplace have placed considerable pressure on the U.S. educational system to prepare students for increasingly skillbased occupations. Employers reward new hires for having the skills or credentials needed for their job, underscoring the importance of having either the requisite “tools in your toolbox,” or some basic academic preparation to continue on into postsecondary education. This stress on knowledge acquisition has contributed to a growing wage gap between high school and college graduates. Whether occupational education at the high school level, with its focus on immediate workforce entry after high school, adequately prepares students for college is a public concern. Since students who enroll in these programs are less likely to transfer to a four-year college to obtain a bachelor’s degree, occupational education is criticized for hampering their future earnings. Some of the criticisms of postsecondary occupational education could be allayed if the economic benefits were equal to (or greater than) those of other types of education. This brief investigates the economic benefits of a community college education by analyzing the effects on post-college earnings of a student’s program of study (occupational or academic), the amount of schooling accumulated with and without attaining a degree, and the type of credential earned.
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