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Career and Technical Education in Comprehensive High Schools

Lessons from New York City

By James J. Kemple, Rebecca Unterman, and Shaun Dougherty

With John Sludden, Samuel J. Kamin, and Clare Buckley Flack (March 2024)


This report is the second in a series from the Research Alliance examining Career and Technical Education (CTE) in New York City. The first report focused on CTE-Dedicated high schools in which all enrolled students participate in a CTE program. This new report focuses on 51 Comprehensive high schools that offer CTE alongside other educational options. In this context, students are assigned to CTE programs as part of their high school applications, but they may opt in and out of CTE coursework and other learning opportunities at any point during their high school years. 

Our study uses an especially rigorous approach to compare the experiences and outcomes of more than 26,000 students who were assigned to CTE programs in Comprehensive high schools with those of similar students who applied to the same programs but were assigned to another option not offering CTE. Among the key findings:

  • Just under half of the students assigned to CTE programs in Comprehensive high schools completed the minimum number of credits for a CTE concentration; about 18 percent participated in a paid or credit-bearing work-based internship. These rates are higher than those of students in the non-CTE comparison group. However, it is notable that the majority of students in the CTE sample did not complete the minimum number of credits for a CTE concentration nor participate in the most intensive of the available work-based learning opportunities. 
  • Students assigned to CTE programs in Comprehensive high schools earned similar numbers of academic credits, including in advanced coursework, as students in the non-CTE control group. As noted in our previous report, one concern about CTE historically has been that requiring students to complete career-specific courses and internships might distract them from other academic requirements and impede their progress through high school. This does not appear to be the case for CTE programs offered in NYC’s Comprehensive high schools, where students earned nearly the same number of academic credits and total credits as those in the study’s non-CTE comparison group. Further, there was no systematic difference in the number of credits earned in advanced courses (i.e., honors, Advanced Placement, or dual enrollment).
  • Students assigned to CTE programs in Comprehensive high schools had graduation and college enrollment rates that were nearly identical to those of students in the study’s control group. On average, nearly 82 percent of students in both groups graduated from high school on time, and 74 percent enrolled in college within 18 months of scheduled graduation. 
  • There was considerable variation in both programming conditions and impacts across programs and schools. In general, we found that CTE programs in smaller, less selective Comprehensive high schools produced slight increases in the rates at which students graduated from high school and enrolled in college. By contrast, some of the CTE programs in larger, more selective Comprehensive high schools reduced high school graduation and college enrollment rates, particularly in programs focused on occupations that require either no or limited postsecondary education for an entry level position. 

The study team is working to obtain data on students’ employment and earnings, as well as on longer-term college enrollment, persistence and completion. This information will be essential to get a more complete picture of the strengths and limitations of CTE programs in Comprehensive high schools. Forthcoming reports from our study will assess the costs associated with CTE and provide a synthesis of findings from both the Comprehensive and CTE-Dedicated high schools. 

This study is supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant #R305A170498 to the Research Alliance for New York City Schools at New York University. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Education.