Do School-to-Work Programs Help the “Forgotten Half”?

A report by David Neumark and Donna Rothstein, Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit (the Institute for the Study of Labor).

This paper tests whether school-to-work (STW) programs are particularly beneficial for those less likely to go to college in their absence – often termed the “forgotten half” in the STW literature. The analysis is based on the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY97), which, as the authors report, provides the best data available to date on participation in a wide array of STW programmes. The STW programmes examined are: job shadowing; mentoring; cooperative education (combining academic and vocational studies); work in a school-sponsored enterprise; ‘tech prep’ (a planned programme of study with a defined career focus); and internships or apprenticeships.

Before examining the effects of STW programmes, the authors estimate a reduced form model for university attendance, interpreting the bottom half of the distribution of this predicted probability as the “forgotten half”. They proceed to estimate regression models for the effects of participation in various STW programmes on a number of postsecondary education- and employment-related outcomes and separate these between the top and bottom ‘halves’ identified during the first stage, to test which types of programme boost post-secondary outcomes, and which do this particularly for the forgotten half. The results are disaggregated by sex, and test on the following outcomes: two-year or four-year Higher Education attendance, current enrolment or idleness, participation in training programmes, earnings and wages and number of hours spent working since leaving high school. The paper is based on responses from 4,292 students across the United States for whom longitudinal data was available. Private and vocational schools were omitted from this study.

The data provide some evidence that STW program participation is particularly advantageous for men in the forgotten half. Among these men, mentoring and coop programmes increase post-secondary education, and coop, school enterprise, and internship/apprenticeship programmes boost employment and decrease idleness after leaving high school, while there is less evidence of such beneficial effects for other men. The evidence that STW programmes are particularly beneficial for women in the forgotten half is limited to findings that internship/apprenticeship programmes lead to positive earnings effects, measured early in the life cycle, concentrated among these women. These results are summarised in Table 10. To give two examples of significant differences in outcomes for those in the bottom half:

  • Men are at least ten percent more likely to be currently enrolled at a two or four year college as a result of participation in cooperative education programmes
  • Women who took part in paid or unpaid work experience were at least ten percent more likely to be currently working and to have worked more hours since leaving high school.

The authors conclude that “there may be substantial benefits to STW efforts targeted towards those male high school students whose characteristics and backgrounds make them less likely to attend college”.

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