Career and Technical Education (CTE) has long played a substantial, though controversial, role within America’s public schools. While supporters argue that CTE may increase student engagement and prepare students for success in the workforce, detractors caution that CTE may inhibit students’ access to the rigorous academic coursework needed for college and high-status careers. As students’ time in high school is a relatively fixed resource, this paper seeks to better understand the extent to which CTE is associated with trade-offs within students’ high school curricula. Using a robust statewide longitudinal data system, this study explores the extent to which CTE may limit course taking in a wide range of subjects (including core academic subjects, electives, and Advanced Placement courses). Special attention is paid to how curricular trade-offs may occur differently among different student populations, keeping in mind the legacy of tracking as a long-employed mechanism for reducing opportunity. On average, results indicate that CTE courses do crowd out students’ enrollment in non-CTE elective areas, but that CTE does not lead to large declines in college preparatory coursetaking, though there are nuances for certain student populations. Overall, these findings counter longstanding narratives that CTE participation limits student access to college preparatory coursework.
High school Career and Technical Education (CTE) has received an increase in attention from both policymakers and researchers in recent years. This study fills a needed gap in the growing research base by examining heterogeneity within the wide range of programs falling under the broader CTE umbrella, and highlights the need for greater nuance in research and policy conversations that often consider CTE as monolithic. Examining multiple possible outcomes, including earnings, postsecondary education, and poverty avoidance, we find substantial differences in outcomes for students in fields as diverse as healthcare, IT, and construction. We also highlight heterogeneity for student populations historically overrepresented in CTE, and find large differences in outcomes for CTE students, particularly by gender.