NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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Vocational and Career Tech Education in American High Schools: The Value of Depth Over Breadth

Daniel Kreisman, Kevin Stange

NBER Working Paper No. 23851
Issued in September 2017
NBER Program(s):The Education Program, The Labor Studies Program

Vocational education is a large part of the high school curriculum, yet we have little understanding of what drives vocational enrollment or whether these courses help or harm early careers. To address this we develop a framework for curriculum choice, taking into account ability and preferences for academic and vocational work. We test model predictions using detailed transcript and earnings information from the NLSY97. Our results are two-fold. First, students positively sort into vocational courses, suggesting the belief that low ability students are funneled into vocational coursework is unlikely true. Second, we find higher earnings among students taking more upper-level vocational courses – a nearly 2% wage premium for each additional year, yet we find no gain from introductory vocational courses. These results suggest (a) policies limiting students’ ability to take vocational courses may not be welfare enhancing, and (b) the benefits of vocational coursework accrue to those who focus on depth over breadth.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23851

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