College & Workforce Readiness

Right Combination of Career, Academic Skills Pays Off for H.S. Grads, Study Finds

By Catherine Gewertz — June 01, 2016 1 min read
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The right combination of career and academic skills can pay off for high school graduates who don’t go to college, producing higher wages, and a better chance of working fulltime, than their peers who earn associate degrees or leave college without earning a degree, a new study finds.

In a report released Wednesday, the Center for Public Education at the National School Boards Association defines the six ingredients of what it calls the “high-credentials” combination: completing Algebra 2 and advanced science, carrying a C-plus grade point average or better, completing three or more related career-focused courses and earning the accompanying professional license or certificate, and, of course, graduating from high school.

The study is the last in the NSBA’s “Path Least Taken” series, which explores options for students who don’t attend college. The latest report, “Path Least Taken III: Rigor and Focus in High School Pays Dividends in the Future,” finds that students who earn the “high credentials” combination have better job and social outcomes than young adults who earned associate degrees or didn’t finish their college degrees, and, in some cases, better outcomes than those who earned bachelor’s degrees.

Looking only at earnings, the “high credentials” students who didn’t attend college did better than every group other than bachelor’s degree holders:

“High-credentialed non-college goers do nearly as well as four-year degree holders economically and socially, and have better outcomes than two-year degree holders and all non-college completers,” the study says.

The benefit of that set of qualifications also seemed to give a boost to students who started, but didn’t finish, college, the report says. They were more likely to be employed fulltime, and they earned more, than students who didn’t have “high credentials” and left two-year or four-year colleges without a degree, it says.

The study’s author, Jim Hull, concludes that advanced math and science “aren’t just for college-goers,” and that vocational training is “not just for non-college-goers.” The combination, especially when vocational training focuses on a specific area of the labor market, pays off for students whether they go to college or not, he wrote.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.