Center for Public Education Study Finds the Path to Career Readiness

Today’s high school graduates can be ready for both college and the workplace with the right preparation and credentials
June 1, 2016

Alexandria, Va. (June 1, 2016) - Higher education confers many benefits, including a better opportunity of obtaining good jobs with high wages, however, it is not the only path to success. The National School Boards Association Center for Public Education (CPE) today released its third installment in a series of reports about non-college goers, “Path Least Taken III: Rigor and focus in high school pays dividends in the future.” CPE’s study finds that well-prepared high school graduates can achieve similar and in some cases greater success than college goers. The winning combination is what CPE calls “high credentials,” a mix of academic knowledge and job specific or technical skills developed in high school plus a professional certificate or license.

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 high school diploma;
  • Algebra II and advanced science;
  • A C+ grade point average or above; and
  • An occupational concentration defined as three or more courses in a single labor market area culminating in a professional license or certificate.

“All students must be equipped with the knowledge and skills to reach their full potential,” said Thomas J. Gentzel, executive director of the National School Boards Association. “To better prepare the next generation, school leaders have to look at enhancing educational opportunities for all students, both college bound and career bound, to ensure future readiness for both.”

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.”

Path Least Taken III: Rigor and focus in high school pays dividends in the future” is located at:

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The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is the leading advocate for public education and supports equity and excellence in public education through school board leadership. NSBA represents state school boards associations and their more than 90,000 local school board members throughout the U.S. Learn more at:

The Center for Public Education (CPE) is a national resource for credible and practical information about public education and its importance to the well-being of our nation. CPE provides up-to-date research, data, and analysis on current education issues and explores ways to improve student achievement and engage public support for public schools. CPE is an initiative of the National School Boards Association. Learn more at:





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