March 15, 2022
High School Career Courses Keep on Giving
For young adults who don’t have a college degree, the career-oriented courses they took in high school give them a leg up in the job market. But do the benefits of higher-quality employment after high school continue into middle age?
The first known U.S. study to examine the long-term impact of high school curricula finds that career and technical classes produce workers who, even though they didn’t attend college, are employed at age 50 – even better if they also took Algebra 2 and other college-prep math courses.
To target the students who prepared themselves for better-paying jobs, the courses the researcher counted as career-oriented were business and marketing, health care, agriculture, and computer programming. Amanda Bosky at the University of Wisconsin excluded courses that tracked students into low-wage work like food service and childcare.
Career and technical courses improved the labor market standing of men and women, with subtle differences. For the women, the more career courses they took in high school, the more likely they were to be employed at age 50. The benefits held true regardless of the individual’s innate characteristics, which usually play a role in career success – from scores on standardized math tests to parents’ income.
For 50-year-old men, any amount of career and technical training improved their odds of continued work, according to the analysis, which used a survey of 1982 high school graduates that checked in on them again decades later. The students’ transcripts, detailing their coursework, supplemented the survey.
Although Bosky didn’t examine the types of jobs the older workers were doing, her premise is that it’s better to be employed than not in the years before retiring.
The findings have another important implication. Understanding what it takes for high school graduates to be engaged in the labor force at 50 is crucial at a time secure union jobs are being eliminated and the demands of a technology-based economy have increased.
Some critics of putting high school students on a non-college track argue that it sorts disadvantaged students into lower-quality jobs.
In fact, only about a third of American adults have college degrees. The best option for everyone else, Bosky concludes, is a combination of vocational and math classes in high school.
To read this study, authored by Amanda Bosky, see “High School Coursework and Labor Force Attachment at Midlife.”
The research reported herein was derived in whole or in part from research activities performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium. The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the author and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA, any agency of the federal government, or Boston College. Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, make any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report. Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof.