Earlier installments in the Path Least Taken series found the overall group of high school graduates who did not go to college face the dimmest economic and social prospects at age 26 compared to those who did. The new report shows that students with high credentials, however, achieved higher economic and social outcomes than two-year degree holders and students who don’t complete their college education, and second only to outcomes for four-year degree holders. High credentialed non-college goers earned 39 percent more than non-credentialed non-college goers, and 21 percent more than 2-year degree holders at age 26 ($18.71 per hour compared to $13.42 and $15.43 respectively). The high credentials group trailed the 4-year degree graduates in hourly wage by only 3.4 percent.
The Path Least Taken identifies high credentials as including:
- A C+ grade point average or above; and
- A high school diploma;
- Algebra II and advanced science;
- An occupational concentration defined as three or more courses in a single labor market area culminating in a professional license or certificate.
Using longitudinal data for students in the Class of 2004, CPE found that eight years after graduating from high school, a mere 13 percent had not gone on to either a two- or four-year college. Of the students who entered colleges, however, less than half emerged with a degree. Often burdened with student debt, these non-completers also find themselves with job prospects only slightly better than had they not gone at all. However, CPE’s analysis reveals that high credentials earned in high school makes a big difference for them, too, in terms of higher wages and full-time employment.
“With so many high school graduates going on to college, the focus for high schools has in large part been on college readiness, but at the expense of learning what makes graduates career-ready,” said Patte Barth, director of the Center for Public Education. “Just as high-level academic courses benefit all students whether they go to college or not, our analyses further show that career education in high school contributes significantly to the future success of all young adults.”