Can Growth in the Availability of STEM Technical Education Improve Equality in Participation?: Evidence from Massachusetts

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In the United States, high school career and technical education (CTE) is the primary source of vocational training at the secondary level, and is similar in goal if not form to vocational education and training (VET) worldwide. CTE has evolved in the past decade to place greater emphasis on programmes in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), mirroring parallel changes in the economy. Little is known, however, about how the rise of STEM CTE programmes have affected participation for students of different backgrounds, and how changes in participation interact with changes in programme offerings. In this paper, we use administrative data from the state of Massachusetts to first document the expansion of CTE and STEM CTE programmes over a decade. We then estimate what student-level factors are associated with participation, including gender, race, socioeconomic status, first language, and disability. We identify important variation in programme participation, particularly among groups historically overrepresented in CTE, and underrepresented in STEM. Leveraging Massachusetts as a case study, we discuss implications for the STEM pipeline and other state and local contexts. Similarly, as VET programmes across many nations consider who has access to what programmes, lessons from Massachusetts may inform policies to ensure equitable access.