From the Field

Research Notes: Is Technical Education Worth the Investment?

Career and technical education (CTE) has been offered in U.S. schools for over a century, with about 77 percent of students now taking at least one class. But there has been little research to show whether high schools offering a concentration of this sort of instruction are worth the extra costs it takes to establish and run them. In a new working paper from the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, researchers Shaun M. Dougherty of Boston University and Mary M. Smith of Vanderbilt University found positive returns on investment for CTE-dedicated high schools.

The study relies on data from Connecticut, which offers area technical centers across the state, and Massachusetts, which has regional vocational and technical high schools. The researchers compared the costs of  running these high schools and the lifetime public benefits of graduates to those of graduates for high schools without a CTE focus.

The analysis found that the CTE-focused high schools spent more per student, but that graduates’ initial earnings were as much as 30 percent higher than those of similar students at other high schools.