Washington has some of the worst achievement gaps in the entire country. The state needs to address the performance gaps that divide student outcomes across incomes levels and racial backgrounds. Only five states rank worse than Washington in terms of the gap between graduation rates for low-income students (65%) and rates for non-low income students (87%). Among the 200 biggest school districts in the U.S., Seattle has the fifth-biggest gap in achievement between black and white students.
Despite popular misconceptions, a 4-year degree in not the only viable route to career success in today’s economy.
Last month, I published a blog article summarizing new research examining outcomes for non-college goers whose high school years were spent engaged in rigorous and career-connected coursework. The Center for Public Education has analyzed longitudinal data from the U.S. Department of Education and discovered that while college goers are on average more likely than non-college goers to have a good job and be a productive member of society by age 26, this distinction all but disappears when the category of non-college goer is disaggregated to separate out rigorous and career-connected high school preparation.
Non-college goers with “high credentials” – that is, a strong high school preparation plus professional certification– were more likely to be employed and have health insurance than college goers, although they were less likely to have a retirement fund.
“High credentialed” high school graduate must meet the following criteria:
- Completed Algebra 2 as highest math course and Advanced biology as highest science;
- Earned a cumulative GPA between 2.5 and 3;
- Completed an occupational concentration in high school (three or more vocational courses in a specific labor market area); and
- Earned a professional certification or license.
There were so many significant findings in the Center for Public Education’s research that I could not unpack everything in the first blog article. This quick follow up examines how “high credentialed” high school grads perform when viewed through the lens of race and ethnicity.
The employment gap by race narrows as credentials increase
High-credentialed non-college goers of all racial groups are more likely to work full-time than the average college goer
Among low credentialed high school grads with no college, white students were 55 percent more likely to be employed than black students by age 26. That white advantage shrinks to 12 percent among high credentialed high school graduates.
Most importantly, at age 26 high credentialed “no college” high school grads were more likely to be employed than the average college going student regardless of their racial group.
High-credentialed non-college goers of all racial groups are more likely to earn more than the average college goers
Average wage of 26 year olds, 2012
The findings for wages mirror those for employment status. Among low credentialed high school grads with no college, white students earned 28 percent more per hour than black students at age 26. The white advantage shrinks to 14 percent among high credentialed high school graduates. And again, at age 26 high credentialed “no college” high school grads were earning more in hourly wages than the average college going student regardless of their racial group.
Black non-college goers are more engaged in their communities
High-credentialed non-college goers of all racial groups are more likely to vote than the average college goers
Research findings like these underline the need to strengthen funding for Career Tech Education.
High school graduates who enter the workforce directly instead of attending college can achieve similar and, in some cases, greater economic and social success than college goers, provided they met the above criteria for rigorous, “high credentialed” high school achievement. Moreover, these “high credentialed” high school grads fare better than those students who earned only an associate’s degree or attended four-year college but did not earn a degree. At age 26, high credentialed high school graduates who did not enroll in college earned nearly as much ($18.71 per hour) as individuals with a bachelor’s degree ($19.38 per hour).
The PLAN Washington approach to education calls for prioritizing workforce-readiness and competency-based K-12 education. It sets as a statewide goal the annual attainment of 155,000 certificates, credentials, apprenticeships, and degrees by the year 2025.