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Press Release · May 19, 2004

Are School-To-Career Programs Working?

Evidence Sketchy on Effectiveness of Programs in California High Schools

SAN FRANCISCO, California, May 19, 2004 — Nationally, some school-to-career programs increase college enrollment and employment among high school students, according to a study released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). However, there is little evidence for evaluating how well California is doing in accomplishing these goals.

Overall, funds for school-to-career activities in the state have declined by more than one-third since the federal School-to-Work Opportunities Act failed to gain reauthorization in 2000. In particular, funds have continued to flow for programs that are narrowly targeted to specific student populations – but not for the more broad-based programs that served all students under the federal act. Given the reduction in resources, it is critical to evaluate the state’s current activities to ensure that remaining funds are being used in the most effective way possible, according to the study.

The analysis, The Effects of School-to-Career Programs on Postsecondary Enrollment and Employment, looks at the different types of programs and finds that, on the national level, some of the more broad-based activities have a positive effect on college enrollment and employment. One program – enterprises run by students – increases the probability of college enrollment following high school by 13 percentage points. Some of the broad-based programs also help boost employment: participation in internship or apprenticeship programs increases the likelihood of employment by 7 percentage points, while programs where students parallel their academic studies with a job in a related field, increases that probability by 9 percentage points.

In contrast, the more narrowly targeted programs – which are the ones primarily funded in California – have more ambiguous results: Participation in Tech Prep – where students are given technical preparation in areas such as mechanical, industrial, or practical arts or trades – lowers the probability of college enrollment by 10 percentage points, although there is some evidence that this program increases the likelihood of full-time employment.

The study, authored by PPIC senior fellow David Neumark, argues that there is a pressing need to assess the usefulness of the state’s school-to-career programs – and perhaps consider reallocating funds. “While the benefits of programs at the national level are more evident, the ability of California’s programs to steer students toward college or successful careers is unclear,” says Neumark. “This seems to warrant a reevaluation of the state’s activities to determine the best approach.”

The Public Policy Institute of California is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett.