The Path Least Taken III: Rigor and Focus in High School Pays Dividends in the Future

This report from the Center for Public Education (CPE) finds that opportunities comparable to those offered by attendance at a four-year college can be found in rigorous high school programs leading to a professional certification. In the third installment of its “Path Least Taken” series, CPE compares social and economic outcomes between students with a four-year college degree and “high-credentialed” students with no degree (CPE defines “high-credentialed” students as those who demonstrated success in high school academic and technical courses and obtained a professional certification).

The study finds that “high-credentialed” students with no degree were just as likely to be employed full-time, to be satisfied with their jobs, and to vote in a recent election by age 26 as students with four-year degrees. The study also finds that, among students who pursued but did not complete a postsecondary degree, those who graduated from a rigorous high school program had more positive social and economic outcomes overall. This demonstrates that rigorous college and career preparation in high school can serve as a powerful economic safety net along the path to a higher degree.