Career-Technical Education and Labor Market Outcomes: Evidence From California Community Colleges

By: Ann Stevens, Michal Kurlaender, & Michel Grosz | May 2015

This paper estimates the earnings returns to vocational, or career-technical, education programs in the nation’s largest community college system. While career-technical education (CTE) programs have often been mentioned as an attractive alternative to four-year colleges for some students, very little systematic evidence exists on the returns to specific vocational certificates and degrees.

Using administrative data covering the entire California Community Colleges system and linked administrative earnings records, this study estimates returns to CTE education. The authors use rich pre-enrollment earnings data and estimation approaches including individual fixed-effects and individual trends, and find average returns to CTE certificate and degrees that range from 12 to 23 percent. The largest returns are for programs in the healthcare sector; among non-health-related CTE programs, estimated returns range from 5 to 10 percent.

Note: A similar version of this paper was released as an NBER working paper in April 2015.

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