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Career Technical Education

Associates Degree or Cert in CTE Leads to Higher Earnings

People in California who earn a career technical education (CTE) degree or certificate from a community college earn more money — an average increase in income of 33 percent or 13 to 22 percent overall, respectively. Those are two findings from a research project undertaken by the Center for Poverty Research at the University of California, Davis.

However, researchers reported in a recently published policy brief, the rise in income varied depending on what vocational program the student undertook. For example, certificates (which require six to 24 months of coursework) in business or public and protective services increased earnings by 14 percent (resulting in average earnings of $34,763 for those completing a program in business and $43,100 for those in protective services). Certificates in health saw an increase of 27 percent (to $35,328).

The research also found that student characteristics across programs translated into different returns and outcomes. Because women "were much more likely than men to enter health programs," the policy brief noted, "their average return was higher." Driven by those high returns, women's income increased 42 percent with an associate's degree, compared to 21 percent for men. Women, however, were also more likely to enter the programs with the lowest returns, such as childcare.

The study measured returns in the six largest CTE disciplines, which cover more than half of all CTE degrees issued in California. The project combined administrative records from the California Community College Chancellor's Office (CCCCO) with quarterly student earnings information from the state's unemployment insurance system through the year 2011.

Based on their findings, the research team advised that schools make information available to prospective students to help them understand the "likely financial outcomes" of their chosen programs.

"Understanding the payoffs to completing these programs is particularly important in California, where two-thirds of all college students attend a community college," said Ann Stevens, the brief's co-author, in a press release.

While CTE programs are "effective pathways to higher incomes for those who are unlikely to complete four-year degrees," she added, their value must be communicated. "Declining real wages and record high unemployment for those without college degrees make it essential that we understand what programs can most benefit these workers," she said.

The policy brief is available on the center's Web site.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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