The Impact of Vocational Education on Racial and
Ethnic Minorities. ERIC Digest.
by Rivera-Batiz, Francisco L.
This digest analyzes information from two recently completed national
surveys to determine the extent to which various vocational education programs
improve the employment opportunities for ethnic and racial minorities in
the United States. Since some vocational education programs include courses
that prepare students to take the General Educational Development (GED)
examination for high school equivalency, the impact of a GED certificate
on workers' wages is also analyzed.
The surveys on which this analysis is based are the 1992 National Adult
Literacy Survey (NALS) and the 1991 Workplace Literacy Assessment Survey.
NALS, a national survey conducted by the National Center for Education
Statistics and the Educational Testing Service, sampled 14,900 adults aged
16 and older in the United States (with African Americans and Hispanics
over-sampled). The overwhelming majority of the vocational education programs
that persons in the NALS sample participated in were traditional ones with
relatively little emphasis on academics.
The Workplace Literacy Assessment Survey was carried out by the Educational
Testing Service and the U.S. Department of Labor. It profiled and assessed
a national sample of approximately 8,000 persons enrolled in Job Training
Partnership Act programs, applying for jobs through the Employment Service
system, and filing claims for Unemployment Insurance.
SECONDARY VOCATIONAL EDUCATION
Those who attended high schools with a college preparatory focus generally
earned more than similar persons who attended high schools with a vocational,
technical, or trade focus. For example, African Americans who attended
a vocational high school earned almost 17 percent less than African Americans
with otherwise identical characteristics (such as age, literacy skills,
and disability status) who attended a general high school. These findings
are consistent with the view that traditional vocational education programs
serve as a "dumping ground" for African American and other minority students
who are labeled underachievers.
College preparatory high school programs are associated with success
in the labor market. Analysis of the NALS data indicates that the positive
impact of these programs on income is closely linked to their better quality
of schooling. Because college prep programs significantly raise the literacy
skills of their students, they also raise their earnings. By contrast,
vocational education programs tend to reduce earnings, in part because
they are associated with lower literacy skills. The importance of integrating
academics into high school vocational education programs is underscored
by these findings.
POSTSECONDARY VOCATIONAL EDUCATION
Both the public and the private sector sponsor a variety of postsecondary
vocational programs. Ethnic and racial minorities tend to have much higher
rates of participation in public sector programs. According to the NALS
data, of working people, close to 5 percent of African American men and
6.6 percent of African American women had participated in a public sector
postsecondary training program, compared to only 1.2 percent of white men
and 1.7 percent of white women. Participation figures for Hispanic men
and women fell in the middle 2.7 percent for men and 4.2 percent for women.
This difference between public and private vocational education program
participation is critical. While privately sponsored postsecondary vocational
education is associated with higher earnings, public vocational education
is not. In fact, salary increases resulting from publicly sponsored postsecondary
vocational education are nearly nil, and this is true for men, women, African
Americans, whites, and Hispanics.
For men in the NALS sample, participation in a vocational program sponsored
by an employer or union raises hourly earnings by 7.8 percent. For women,
the salary increase from a privately funded postsecondary vocational education
is 22.8 percent.
The economic benefits of private postsecondary vocational education
vary also by race and ethnicity. Both for men and women, vocational education
funded by an employer or union provides greater gains for blacks and Hispanics
than for whites. Among Hispanics, the earnings gains associated with private
sector postsecondary vocational education are substantial 29.4 percent
among men and 62 percent among women. For blacks the increases are also
relatively high 11.8 percent for men and 27.8 percent for women. Among
whites, the increases are 7.5 percent for men and 18.3 percent for women.
The type of private sector program also affects the amount of benefits
for the various population groups, according to data from the Workplace
Literacy Assessment Survey. Workplace apprenticeships are strongly related
to increased earnings but only for men. For both black and white men, participation
in an apprenticeship program raises earnings by about 20 percent on average.
For Hispanic men the impact is even bigger: a 35 percent gain in earnings.
Among women whether white, black, or Hispanic there is no statistically
significant connection between earnings and participation in an apprenticeship,
which may be explained by the clustering or tracking of women into lower
INCORPORATING GED COURSES INTO VOCATIONAL EDUCATION PROGRAMS
Some vocational education programs incorporate high school equivalency
(GED) courses into their curriculum. In recent years, many policymakers
have expressed support for an expansion of this linkage. While some researchers
(Cameron & Heckman, 1993; Murnane & Willett, 1993) have raised
doubts about the economic value of a GED, others have found that earning
a GED certificate has a positive effect on income (Cave & Bos, 1994;
Iowa Department of Education, 1992). This is a key issue for ethnic and
racial minorities, but analysis has been limited because of the lack of
data allowing comparison of GED recipients with high school graduates.
Using the NALS results, this digest summarizes the first nationally representative
analysis of the consequences of the GED.
THE VALUE OF A GED CERTIFICATE LABOR FORCE PARTICIPATION MEN.
Male high school dropouts had the lowest labor force participation rate
only 58.3 percent were either working or looking for employment. By contrast,
the participation rate among those with a GED was 83.4 percent, approximately
the same rate as high school graduates.
WOMEN. Among women, the labor force participation rate of high
school dropouts was the lowest in the sample 36.2 percent. For GED recipients,
though, labor force participation was dramatically higher 63.5 percent.
Women high school graduates had a labor force participation rate of 58.6
AFRICAN AMERICANS, HISPANICS, AND WHITES. The positive relationship
between a GED certificate and labor force participation holds for all the
major racial and ethnic groups. Among black men, the labor force participation
rate for high school dropouts is 60.5 percent, but among GED holders it
is 85.9 percent. For Hispanics, the rate increases from 76.8 percent for
dropouts to 93.3 percent for those with the GED. Among whites the participation
rate is 52.3 percent for dropouts and 81.6 percent for those with a GED.
Again, the greater labor force participation rates associated with a GED
are stronger for women.
These national results show that the GED provides a substantial advantage
in earnings relative to high school dropouts. For people of similar age,
race, and ethnicity, a GED provides an increase in wages of 21 percent
for men and 18 percent for women, compared to wages earned by high school
dropouts. For men, a high school diploma yields wages 15.9 percent higher
than those earned by dropouts. Female high school graduates earn only 7.6
percent more than dropouts. Thus, for both men and women, the GED has a
stronger positive effect on earnings than has the high school diploma,
and for women, the difference is substantial.
Because NALS includes several measures of literacy, the data allow determination
of the literacy skills of male and female GED recipients as well as those
of high school dropouts and high school graduates.
People with a GED had substantially higher literacy scores than high
school dropouts. For both men and women, those with a GED scored at least
50 points higher than dropouts (on a scale of 0 to 500). The scores of
GED holders and high school graduates are nearly identical. And yet, as
noted above, female GED graduates earn substantially more than females
with a high school diploma.
Even though there is no significant difference between GED recipients
and high school graduates in terms of literacy skills, there may be differences
in motivation that are rewarded in the labor market. If some employers
rely on motivation or other personal characteristics as a basis for hiring
and salary decisions, and if these traits are more prevalent in GED holders
than in high school graduates, then the latter will have fewer job opportunities,
and, thus, earn less.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
At the secondary school level, graduates of high schools with a vocational
focus generally earn substantially less than persons with similar characteristics
who attend high schools with a college preparatory or general academic
focus. Since graduates of vocational high schools earn less than graduates
of other high schools, and since ethnic and racial minorities are overrepresented
in vocational high school programs, their low earnings have a disproportionate
impact on minority populations. That the disadvantage of vocational high
schools is largely related to the lower literacy skills acquired by their
students underscores the importance of efforts to integrate academic subjects
into secondary vocational education programs.
Some vocational education programs incorporate courses that prepare
students to take a high school equivalency (GED) exam. The results presented
in this digest, contradicting previous research, show that dropouts who
obtain a GED certificate generally receive higher wages than dropouts who
Cameron, S. V., & Heckman, J. J. (1993, January). Nonequivalence
of high school equivalents. The Journal of Labor Economics, 11(2), 1-47.
Cave, G., & Bos, H. (1994). The value of a GED in a choice based
experimental sample. Unpublished manuscript, Manpower Development Research
Corporation, New York.
Iowa Department of Education. (1992). What has happened to Iowa's GED
graduates? A two-, five-, and ten-year follow up study. Des Moines: State
of Iowa Department of Education. (ED 344 047)
Murnane, R., & Willett, J. (1993). Do high school dropouts benefit
from obtaining a GED?: Using multi-level modeling to examine longitudinal
evidence from the NLSY. Unpublished manuscript, Harvard Graduate School
of Education, Cambridge.