Vocational Education in the United States: The Early 1990s
Additional Questions for
How do vocational and nonvocational teachers differ from one another?
Differences between vocational and nonvocational teachers in 1990-91 had
more to do with the types of schools in which vocational teachers taught,
and the types of occupational programs that they taught, than with their
being vocational or nonvocational teachers. Vocational teachers in comprehensive
high schools were similar to nonvocational teachers, while vocational teachers
working in vocational schools (including full-time vocational high schools
and area vocational schools) were markedly different from other teachers.
In part, these differences reflect that vocational teachers in vocational
schools were more likely than their counterparts in comprehensive high schools
to teach in the trade and industry, technical, and health areas.
Vocational teachers in comprehensive high schools were equally as likely
as nonvocational teachers to be male (table 114). In contrast, vocational
teachers in vocational schools were much more likely than their counterparts
in comprehensive high schools to be male, with about two-thirds of vocational
teachers in vocational schools being male in 1990-91.
Similarly, vocational teachers in comprehensive high schools were more similar
to nonvocational teachers than to vocational teachers in vocational schools,
in terms of the highest degree earned and the age at which they first began
to teach (figure 9 and table 115). Vocational teachers in comprehensive
high schools were only slightly more likely than nonvocational teachers
to have earned less than a bachelor's degree, with the vast majority (more
than 95 percent) of both groups earning at least a bachelor's degree. In
contrast, 44 percent of vocational teachers in vocational schools held less
than a bachelor's degree. Furthermore, vocational teachers in comprehensive
high schools were only slightly older than nonvocational teachers when they
first began to teach, with at least two-thirds of both groups having been
25 years or younger when they first taught. On the other hand, more than
two-thirds of vocational teachers in vocational schools were over the age
of 25 when they began to teach. These findings suggest that vocational teachers
in vocational schools may have been more likely than their counterparts
in com-prehensive high schools to have worked in their vocational fields
before they entered teaching.
Figure 9--Characteristics of public high school vocational and nonvocational teachers, by teacher and school type: 1990-91
Vocational teachers in trade and industry, technical, and health areas were
more likely to teach at vocational schools than were vocational teachers
in other occupational areas (table 118).(51)
For example, more than one-third of trade and industry and of technical
teachers and more than one-quarter of health teachers taught at vocational
schools, while 5 percent or fewer of agriculture, business and accounting,
career education, home economics, and industrial arts teachers taught at
these schools. Trade and industry as well as technical teachers were more
likely than other vocational teachers to have earned less than a bachelor's
degree and, along with health teachers, were older when they first began
to teach (table 117).(52)
These findings suggest that these teachers may have been more likely than
other vocational teachers to enter the teaching profession after working
for some years in industry.
How much do vocational teachers earn?
In 1990-91, vocational and nonvocational teachers earned similar salaries
(an average of $31,595 for vocational teachers compared with $32,145 for
nonvocational teachers) (table 121). Vocational teachers' salaries increased
with number of years of teaching experience. Additionally, vocational teachers
in suburban schools earned more than those in urban schools, who in turn
earned more than vocational teachers in rural areas. While vocational teachers
with a master's or higher degree earned more than their counterparts with
less postsecondary education, there was no significant difference between
the earnings of vocational teachers with a bachelor's degree and those with
less than a bachelor's degree. This similarity in earnings may reflect the
practice in some states of compensating vocational teachers for industry
How large are vocational classes and teaching loads?
Vocational classes tended to be smaller than nonvocational classes, and
the average number of students for whom vocational teachers were responsible
was smaller than for nonvocational teachers (tables 122 and 123). Specifically,
vocational classes contained, on average, 17 students, while nonvocational
classes contained 22 students. Furthermore, the size of vocational classes
was fairly constant across school types, with vocational classes in comprehensive
high schools containing only slightly more students than vocational classes
in vocational schools. The average number of students vocational teachers
instructed per week was lower than the number nonvocational teachers instructed
(89 students compared with 113 students). However, vocational teachers in
vocational schools instructed significantly fewer students per week than
their counterparts in comprehensive high schools (75 students compared with
90 students). While vocational teachers in vocational schools had nearly
as many students per class, they may have taught fewer classes than their
counterparts in comprehensive high schools.(54)
Additional Questions for Postsecondary Vocational Education
What institutional sectors have the largest vocational education
Public 2- to 3-year institutions (community colleges) were the largest
providers of postsecondary vocational education in 1989-90, enrolling 60 percent
of all nonbaccalaureate postsecondary students reporting a vocational major
(table 61). Private proprietary institutions were the second largest vocational
providers, serving about 22 percent of all nonbaccalaureate vocational students.
The remaining 18 percent of vocational students were served by public 4-year;
public vocational-technical; private, nonprofit 4-year; and private, nonprofit
less-than-4-year institutions (figure 10). Four-year institutions together
served about 11 percent of all postsecondary vocational students.
Figure 10--Percentage of nonbaccalaureate vocational majors attending different types of postsecondary institutions: 1989-90
How do students reporting vocational majors differ from those reporting
There were marked differences between students reporting vocational and
academic majors (tables 89-93). Vocational majors were somewhat more likely than
their academic counterparts to be male and to be from a racial-ethnic minority.
Vocational majors were also older and were more likely to be economically
independent from their parents. However, contrary to some widely held beliefs,
vocational majors were also more likely than academic majors to be enrolled full
time and to be working toward a formal degree or certificate rather than taking
individual courses. Vocational majors were less economically well off than their
academic peers and were more likely to be unmarried with dependents. They were
also more likely to be receiving financial aid, perhaps because of a combination
of factors, including their greater full-time attendance status, greater
economic independence, and poorer economic background.
How much financial aid do vocational students receive?
Among 1989-90 nonbaccalaureate postsecondary students, almost one-half of
those who reported majoring in vocational education received some sort of
financial aid (table 94). In contrast, one-third of students reporting academic
majors and one-quarter of those reporting other majors received financial aid.
Of those students who received financial aid, almost three-quarters (73 percent)
of vocational majors received some sort of federal aid, compared with about
two-thirds of academic majors (66 percent). State and institutional financial
aid sources funded fewer students--22 percent and 25 percent of vocational
On average, aided students majoring in a vocational area received about
$3,000 in federal aid in 1989-90, in comparison with about $1,200 in both state
and institutional aid (table 95). Vocational majors were also more likely to
receive federal grants than federal loans, with the largest federal grant source
being Pell grants, and the largest loan source being Stafford loans (table 94).
More than one-half of all vocational financial aid recipients received a Pell
grant. However, the average Pell grant to vocational majors was smaller than the
average Stafford loan ($1,400 compared with $2,300).
Vocational education involves a broad range of activities, including
occupationally specific, general labor market, and consumer and homemaking
coursework; school- and work-based experiences; and integrated academic and
vocational curricula. While participation in the traditional high school
vocational curriculum has declined somewhat over the 1982-1992 decade, efforts
to reform vocational education in both high schools and postsecondary
institutions have expanded in recent years.
The data presented in this publication are many and varied. They provide a
fairly detailed picture of vocational education, particularly at the secondary
level. Several broad themes recur and are summarized below.
Participation of Special Populations
At both the secondary and postsecondary levels, economically disadvantaged
students were more likely than their advantaged counterparts to participate
heavily in vocational education. Among public high school graduates, those from
families in lower socioeconomic quartiles were more likely to complete three or
more courses (to "concentrate") in a single occupational program area
and to complete two or more advanced courses (to "specialize") in that
program area (tables 35 and 38). Among nonbaccalaureate postsecondary students,
those from families in lower socioeconomic quartiles were more likely than their
higher socioeconomic counterparts to report majoring in a vocational program
area (table 60).
Economic disadvantage aside, the participation patterns of special
populations differed at the two educational levels. While academically
disadvantaged students and students with disabilities were more likely than
their counterparts to concentrate and specialize in vocational education in high
school, they were not more likely to major in vocational education at the
postsecondary level. Furthermore, unmarried postsecondary students with
dependents were more likely to report majoring in vocational education, while
high school graduates who were parents or were expecting while in high school
were no more likely to concentrate or specialize in high school vocational
programs than other graduates.
Academic Preparation of Vocational Coursetakers
A number of findings presented in this report describe the academic
preparation of vocational coursetakers. Taken together, they paint a
troublesome, but potentially improving, picture. To begin with, as public high
school graduates earn more vocational credits, they tend to earn fewer academic
ones (table 41). Given the limited number of class periods available during the
school day and year, such a tradeoff may be necessary to enable students to
participate in the vocational curriculum. Moreover, graduates who complete large
numbers of vocational courses tend to give up more foreign language courses than
other academic courses.(56)
However, the remaining academic coursework of heavy vocational coursetakers
includes fewer advanced academic courses and more remedial and survey-type
coursework (tables 43, 45, and 47). The combination of completing fewer academic
courses overall and fewer advanced and more lower level academic courses may
contribute to the finding that students earning more vocational credits have
lower NAEP academic achievement test scores (tables 105 and 106). Another
contributing factor may be the tendency of high school students from special
populations to participate in vocational education at relatively high rates.
Against this background, however, high schools reported that efforts to infuse
more academic materials into vocational courses were among their most common
integration activities (tables 97 and 100).
Varied Profiles of Vocational Students and Teachers
A third theme emerging from this report is that no single description fits
all vocational students or teachers, particularly at the secondary level.
Instead, profiles vary by vocational program area. For example, business was the
most common vocational concentration among college preparatory graduates (table
37), and business concentrators were more likely than all other vocational
concentrators except technical and communications ones to meet all of the
A Nation At Risk academic coursework standards (table 40). Additionally,
female graduates were significantly more likely than male graduates to
concentrate in business (table 37), and graduates accumulating greater numbers
of remedial credits were significantlyless likely to concentrate in this
area (table 38). In contrast, male, Native American, and economically and
academically disadvantaged graduates were more likely than their counterparts to
concentrate in trade and industry (tables 37 and 38).
Vocational teachers also differed according to the vocational subjects
they taught. For example, vocational teachers in trade and industry, technical,
and health areas were more likely to teach at vocational schools than
agriculture, business and accounting, career education, home economics, and
industrial arts teachers (table 118). Furthermore, trade and industry teachers
and technical teachers were more likely to have earned less than a bachelor's
degree and, along with health teachers, were older when they first began to
teach than other vocational teachers.
In conclusion, vocational education encompasses diverse objectives,
activities, providers, and participants. No single description of the vocational
education experience covers all situations. Experiences vary among education
levels, types of schools and institutions, vocational program areas, and groups
of students and teachers. This publication presents a wide array of data that
shed light on these different experiences and help to understand the complex
nature of the U.S. vocational education system in the early 1990s.
- 1. Section 421 of the 1990 Perkins Act directs the
Secretary of Education to establish a national vocational education data system.
This publication is in part a response to this legislative mandate. 1990 Perkins
Act, Public Law 101-392, Sec. 421.
- 2. The Act goes on to say, "Such programs shall
include competency-based applied learning which contributes to an individual's
academic knowledge, higher-order reasoning, and problem-solving skills, work
attitudes, general employability skills, and the occupational-specific skills
necessary for economic independence as a productive and contributing member of
society. Such term also includes applied technology education." 1990
Perkins Act, Public Law 101-392, Sec. 521 (41).
- 3. A.G. Gifford, E.G. Hoachlander, and J.E. Tuma, The Secondary School Taxonomy Final Report (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, National Assessment of Vocational Education, February 1989).
4. For simplicity's sake, the text refers to specific labor market preparation education as the occupationally specific curriculum and to specific labor market preparation programs as occupational programs.
5. In addition to serving high school students, area vocational schools often enroll postsecondary (for-credit) and adult (noncredit) students.
6. Section 403 of the 1990 Perkins Act called upon the Office
of Education Research and Improvement to conduct a national assessment of
vocational education to provide descriptions and evaluations of a broad range of
issues pertaining to vocational education (1990 Perkins Act, Public Law 101-392,
Sec. 403). The NAVE published its final report to Congress in July 1994
[National Assessment of Vocational Education, Final Report to Congress
(Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research
and Improvement, Office of Research, 1994)]. The statistics provided in the
above paragraph can be found in Volume II, chapter 1 of the report.
7. The exceptions are data on secondary school teachers
(tables 114-127) and on school-to-work programs (tables 97-104), which do
distinguish between comprehensive high schools and vocational schools.
8. E. Gareth Hoachlander, Phillip Kaufman, Karen Levesque,
and James Houser, Vocational Education in the United States: 1969-1990
(Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education
9. National Assessment of Vocational Education, Final
Report to Congress, Volume II, chapter 1 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department
of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, Office of
10. In secondary education, 1 Carnegie unit is awarded for
the completion of a course that meets 1 period per day for 1 year. For
simplicity's sake, this publication refers to a Carnegie unit as a credit.
11. Vocational and Applied Technology Education Programs--
General Provisions, 34 CFR 400.4.
12. These definitions were originally used by the NAVE.
National Assessment of Vocational Education, Final Report to Congress,
Volume II, chapter 1 (Washington, D.C.: 1994).
13. W. Norton Grubb, Access, Achievement, Completion,
and "Milling Around" in Postsecondary Vocational Education
(Berkeley: National Center for Research in Vocational Education, April 1989).
14. The recent NAVE found that vocational education is
widely available in U.S. high schools. About three-quarters of all comprehensive
high schools offer occupational programs, while more than 90 percent offer, at
minimum, introductory vocational courses. Additionally, almost all comprehensive
high schools either offer vocational courses or provide access to area
vocational schools. National Assessment of Vocational Education, Final
Report to Congress, Volume II, chapter 1 (Washington, D.C.: 1994).
15. Local economic conditions affecting vocational programs
included both the loss of jobs for which programs trained students and the loss
of educational funding that often accompanied a poor economy. Ibid.
16. Ibid., chapter 2.
17. Although the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study
(NPSAS) excludes students taking not-for-credit courses, about one in four
nonbaccalaureate students in the 1989-90 NPSAS sample reported majoring in
program areas that were classified by the Classification of Instructional
Programs (CIP) as "personal improvement or leisure" programs. See A
Classification of Instructional Programs, 1990 Edition, Washington, D.C.:
U.S. Department of Education, , U.S.
Government Printing Office, 1990.
18. Although all students enrolled in public
vocational-technical institutes are typically considered to be vocational, some
of the students surveyed declared they were enrolled in academic programs such
as law, education, and journalism and communications.
19. National Assessment of Vocational Education, Final
Report to Congress, Volume II, chapter 1 (Washington, D.C.: 1994).
20. Students majored in health and in trade and industry
programs at statistically similar rates.
21. National Assessment of Vocational Education, Final
Report to Congress, Volume II, chapter 6 (Washington, D.C.: 1994).
22. Graduates were classified as "college preparatory"
if they completed 4 or more credits in English; 3 or more credits in math, with
1 or more of those credits in algebra or higher; 3 or more credits in science,
with 1 or more of those credits in chemistry or physics; and 2 or more credits
in a single foreign language. Students who met both the vocational specialist
and college preparatory criteria were included in the vocational specialist
23. National Assessment of Vocational Education, Final
Report to Congress, Volume II, chapter 1 (Washington, D.C.: 1994).
24. The NAVE found that throughout 1982-1992 graduates
earning large numbers of vocational credits were less likely both to concentrate
their coursetaking in a specific program area and to earn advanced credits
within their concentration. The NAVE speculated that the increasing lack of
program concentration may be due to a number of factors, including students
taking vocational courses for avocational reasons; students anticipating more
complex job demands and moving toward an interdisciplinary type of training by
taking coursework in several program areas; or students simply being less
focused in their coursetaking. Ibid.
25. The percentage of marketing concentrators completing
second or higher level courses in marketing was not statistically higher than
the percentage of trade and industry concentrators completing higher level
courses in trade and industry.
26. The percentage of occupational home economics
concentrators completing second or higher level courses in their concentration
was not statistically different from the percentage of health and technical and
communications concentrators completing such courses in their respective
27. For the purposes of this publication, an occupational
program was identified as nontraditional if one gender group was two or more
times as likely as the other to participate in the program in 1992.
28. The NAVE found that the gender imbalance in occupational
programs was greater among concentrators than among all graduates taking one or
more courses in these areas. National Assessment of Vocational Education,
Final Report to Congress, Volume II, chapter 1 (Washington, D.C.: 1994).
29. In this publication, the term white refers to
white, non-Hispanic persons.
30. In this publication, the term black refers to
black, non-Hispanic persons.
31. The NAVE suggested that the overrepresentation of
minorities in private proprietary schools might be due to the fact that these
schools are concentrated in urban areas, while public subbaccalaureate
institutions are mostly located outside cities. National Assessment of
Vocational Education, Final Report to Congress, Volume II, chapter 2
(Washington, D.C.: 1994).
33. The NAVE found that special populations, particularly
academically disadvantaged and disabled students, made up a growing proportion
of the vocational and occupational course-taking population over the last
decade. Several factors may have contributed to this trend. First, special
populations decreased their vocational coursetaking less than other students
during these years. As a result of this differential decline, "the
overrepresentation of special population students in vocational education"
increased. Second, the Perkins Act encouraged districts to maximize the
participation of special populations in vocational education. Finally, the NAVE
suggested that as vocational enrollments decline, "special population
students are often easier to recruit, in part because regular programs are more
willing to let them go. Comprehensive high schools, often reluctant to send
students to area vocational schools because they may lose funds by doing so, are
more willing to send more costly, hard-to-educate students to AVSs." Ibid.
34. The differences between student parents and expecting
students and their counterparts in the number of occupationally specific credits
earned were not statistically significant.
35. Limited-English proficient students also appeared more
likely to be vocational specialists, but this difference was not statistically
36. The 1990 Perkins Act included individuals in
correctional institutions among special populations groups. Public Law 101-392,
37. New Basics standards for noncollege-bound high school
graduates include 4 years of English, 3 years of math, 3 years of science, 3
years of social studies, and a half year of computer science. National
Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation At Risk: The Imperative for
Educational Reform (Cambridge, MA: USA Research, 1983).
38. However, while technical and communications and business
concentrators appeared at least twice as likely as marketing and distribution
concentrators to specialize in the college prep curriculum, these differences
were not statistically significant.
39. However, the difference between foreign language and
fine arts was not statistically significant.
40. Although the 1990 Perkins Act did not define the term
integration of academic and vocational education, some research has been
done on the forms that such integration takes in schools. In The
Cunning Hand, the Cultured Mind, Grubb et al. identified eight
integration models that differ in approach and ambition: (1) incorporating more
academic content in vocational courses; (2) combining vocational and academic
teachers to enhance academic competencies in vocational programs; (3) making the
academic curriculum more vocationally relevant; (4) curricular alignment by
modifying both vocational and academic courses; (5) the senior project as a form
of integration; (6) the academy model or schools-within-schools; (7)
occupational high schools and magnet schools; and (8) occupational clusters, "career
paths," and occupational majors. See W. Norton Grubb et al., The
Cunning Hand, the Cultured Mind: Models for Integrating Vocational and Academic
Education, Berkeley: National Center for Research in Vocational Education,
41. The Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills
(SCANS) identified five competencies needed for employment, including (1)
identifying, organizing, planning, and allocating resources; (2) working with
others; (3) acquiring and using information; (4) understanding complex
interrelationships; (5) working with a variety of technologies; and a three-part
foundation of skills, including (1) basic skills; (2) thinking skills; and (3)
personal qualities. The Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills,
What Work Requires of Schools: A SCANS Report for America 2000
(Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Labor, June 1991).
42. However, the percentages of educators in comprehensive
high schools developing applied materials for academic courses and either team
teaching or developing coordinated courses were not statistically different.
43. The study reported similar findings for science and
reading achievement. Alexander C. McCormick, John Tuma, and James Houser,
Vocational Course Taking and Achievement: An Analysis of High School
Transcripts and 1990 NAEP Assessment Scores (Washington, D.C.: U.S.
Department of Education, , May 1995).
44. The study suggested that researchers and policymakers
interested in the causal relationships between coursetaking and achievement
should use longitudinal data to examine achievement gains, with careful
controls for other explanatory factors. Ibid.
45. K.A. Rasinski, The Effect of High School Vocational
Education on Academic Achievement Gain and High School Persistence: Evidence
from NELS:88, Draft Report (Chicago: National Opinion Research Center,
46. A pattern of increasing labor market returns to
education was documented by Kane and Rouse. These researchers found that persons
who attended 2- and 4-year colleges earned about 5 percent more than high school
graduates for every year of postsecondary credits earned, regardless of whether
they attained a postsecondary degree. See Thomas J. Kane and Cecilia Rouse, "Labor
Market Returns to Two- and Four-Year Colleges: Is a Credit a Credit and Do
Degrees Matter?", Working Paper #4268 (Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of
Economic Research, January 1993).
47. For example, 79 percent of vocational completers
employed in a field related to training were employed throughout the time
studied, while 77 percent of those employed in an unrelated field were
48. The NAVE found that training-related employment also had
a positive impact on the earnings of secondary vocational completers. NAVE, Final
Report to Congress, Volume II, chapter 6 (Washington, D.C.: 1994).
49. The School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994 encourages
states to expand work-based learning opportunities for high school students and
details methods for developing meaningful experiences. Public Law 103-239.
50. However, credits earned by health concentrators were not
statistically different from credits earned by business and occupational home
51. The only exceptions were that technical and health
teachers were not statistically more likely than teachers in the "other"
vocational category to teach at vocational schools.
52. Technical teachers were not more likely than health and "other"
vocational teachers to have earned less than a bachelor's degree, and technical
and health teachers were no less likely than teachers in the "other"
and "mixed" categories to be age 25 or younger when they first began
53. See "The State of Certification," Vocational
Education Journal 68 (6) (September 1993): 30-35.
54. For example, area vocational schools typically block
schedule their classes, offering two to four sessions per day. In contrast,
comprehensive high schools schedule six or seven class periods per day, although
some vocational classes may meet for two consecutive periods.
55. The state and institutional financial aid categories
included both need-based and merit-based aid.
56. A Nation At Risk did not include foreign
language among its coursework standards for students who were not college bound.
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