Retention of Vocational Education Graduates in Public Higher Education

Article excerpt

This study examines the retention of vocational education graduates in public higher education. Using 2,172 students who graduated vocational education programs in Area Vocational Technical Schools and enrolled as freshman (first-time young students) in public two-year and four-year colleges and universities in the 1996 fall semester, I conducted cohort analyses to exam the retention trend by gender and race. This study found that retention rates of vocational education graduates are lower than those of general students in both two-year and four-year public colleges and universities. Related policy implications are discussed.

Introduction and Background

Since college student retention is one of the major research topics in higher education, numerous studies have been conducted to investigate the relationships between college retention, persistence, and completion of degree and other influential factors including student socio-economic background, and institutional and environmental factors. While most analysis has targeted traditional full-time younger students, there is a trend toward studies focusing on diverse subgroups of college students such as adult learners, nontraditional students, and online learners (Asbar & Skenes, 1993; Dirkx, & Jha, 1994; Malicky, & Norman, 1994; Horn & Carroll, 1996). Retention studies on these specific groups have increased along with the growing enrollment of diverse populations.

One of the growing diverse groups in today's colleges consists of students who complete vocational education programs at the high school level. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (Levesque, Lauen, Teitelbaum, Alt, & Librera, 2000), for instance, 42 percent of 1982 high school vocational concentrators enrolled in postsecondary education, and this number increased to 55 percent of 1992 vocational concentrators. In particular, the number of vocational education graduates who entered public higher education in Missouri increased between 1996 and 2000. In 1996, 2,172 vocational education graduates entered public colleges; this number increased to 2,413 in 1998 and to 2,813 in 2000.

In spite of this trend, almost no studies have focused on this population. It is reasonable to expect that vocational education graduates in colleges have different retention patterns than other groups including traditional full-time younger students because their characteristics and goals are different from those of other populations. For instance, vocational education graduates' access to colleges is different from access for general education students because high school vocational education graduates generally enter the labor market directly. Levesque, Lauen, Teitelbaum, Alt, and Librera (2000) show that vocational concentrators in high school were less likely than their peers to enroll in a postsecondary institution within 2 years after completing high school, and were more likely to enroll in community colleges than four-year colleges. In addition, about one quarter (26 percent) of postsecondary students who were vocational concentrators in high school identified themselves primarily as workers rather than as students (Levesque, Lauen, Teitelbaum, Alt, & Librera, 2000). This implies that vocational education graduates may leave college whenever they need to work, with or without credentials.

For administrators as well as researchers, the concern is whether retention trends observed for traditional students are equally valid for all types of students (Martinez, 2001). Also, does the retention pattern of vocational education graduates follow the general retention pattern examined in previous studies? For instance, about 16 percent of first-year students at four-year colleges and universities in 1989-90 dropped out during their first year or failed to return for a second year (Horn 1998). Is this retention trend equally valid for vocational education graduates in public colleges and universities? …