Author: Meghan Farrell

Global Researcher: Professor Shaun Dougherty Presents Vocational Education Research Abroad

Shaun Dougherty Headshot
Educational Leadership's Professor Shaun Dougherty

On September 15, 2017, Assistant Professor of Education and Public Policy, Shaun Dougherty, presented research on technical education at the University College Dublin School of Economics in Dublin, Ireland. Four days prior to his visit to UCD, Dr. Dougherty presented at The Centre for Vocational Education Research (CVER) Conference at the London School of Economics in London, England. Following his trip, we were able to talk with Dr. Dougherty concerning the importance of technical and vocational education and his experience abroad:

1. How does postsecondary education in the United States compare to the education systems in Europe?

In the US we have a highly self-directed system of tertiary education whereby students can self-select into two- or four-year colleges, technical training, or no tertiary education as well. In the UK and Ireland, the systems are more similar to the US than in much of the rest of mainland Europe. That said, even the UK system is more differentiated than our own, with clearer vocational pathways for tertiary education, and less clearly defined in programs that would look like our community colleges.

2. Why is the idea of vocational education more popular abroad and what barriers have limited technical schools as a widely accepted route in the United States?

The United States has generally favored a focus on individual choice in educational pursuits and have thus chosen to focus on development of more general skills, rather than encouraging differentiation of educational pathways based on prior test score of academic performance. In the UK and Ireland there is less differentiation early in the educational process. In contrast, Germany, Switzerland, and Denmark differentiate across educational pathways that are college bound, or not, much earlier (e.g. lower secondary, or transition to upper secondary).

3. How has the value of a high school diploma changed in the United States? Additionally, how has the value of a bachelor’s degree changed in the United States?

Over the last three decades there has been a clear decline in the value of a high school diploma. Some of this decline has been driven by the fact that high school graduation rates have risen steadily over this period, which has reduced the ability of the diploma to be used as a way to distinguish students with lower and middle skills. In contrast, the value of a bachelor’s degree has increased over this period, though there is some speculation now whether we may see a plateau in the returns to a college degree as rates of degree acquisition increase.

4. What is the future for technical education schools and vocational training in the United States?

In the present political moment, interest in Career and Technical Education (CTE) as part of “college and career readiness” is at its highest in 30 years. As there is increased evidence of lower than desired college completion rates (among those who ever enroll), there is an acknowledgement that differentiation in career pathways is important, and that college for all policies may not have done as well as they might in creating awareness of the myriad of educational and workforce options that may be available to people. I anticipate that technical education will continue to garner some substantial attention in the near term. However, unless states and districts do a good job of defining educational options and articulating how they can transfer into higher education and employment, there may be under utilization of these educational pathways.

5. What are the advantages of vocational training and how can it improve employment outcomes?

Poster Board from the Centre for Vocational Education Research Conference in London, England

One of the benefits of technical education is that it makes schooling relevant and clearly applies it to a form of learning that reflects a use in employment. A second potential benefit is that it can impart skills that may be in demand in the workforce, and that could lead to higher wages, especially early in an individual's working career. That said, there is some evidence that the long-term trajectories of those who focus on CTE in high school may not be as favorable as those who get more general skills and pursue other forms of higher education. The key is not to position the choices as binary, either/or, decisions. Students who participate in CTE in high school may get benefits that include enhanced bridges to postsecondary education. Furthermore, for students for whom college is not palatable, CTE may improve their outcomes over what they would have been in the absence of technical education.

6.What did you learn from other researchers at the Centre for Vocational Educational Research (CVER) Conference and/or at the University College Dublin (UCD) that you think could improve upon the traditional education path in the United States?

The CVER conference was a nice way to reinforce for me the myriad of ways that our neighbors in the EU are thinking about and innovating in education. One of the best reminders I received was that, while CTE doesn’t always carry a negative stigma, the social value of different forms of education is highly variable. What this means to me is that educational policy in the US has to be realistic about how it uses and promotes policies to improve educational and workforce outcomes in the US. It also reminded me that there are more variants on the models we use in the US for technical education, and that there are continued opportunities to learn from those who have been doing this longer than we have.

Dr. Dougherty's research has recently been featured in The Conversation, UConn Today, Brookings Institute and in former Vice President Joe Biden's podcast, Biden's Briefing.


Looking Back at CEPA’s Success with 2016-2017 Speaker Series

On April 20, the Center for Educational Policy Analysis hosted Dr. Ebony Bridwell-Mitchell of Harvard Graduate School of Education for it’s ninth and final CEPA Speaker Series event for the 2016-2017 school year. Dr. Bridwell-Mitchell’s presentation titled, “Them That’s Got: How Tie Formation in Partnership Networks Gives High Schools Differential Access to Social Capital” examined partnership formation among 211 New York City public high schools and 1,098 partner organizations from 1999 to 2005 and marked a strong end to the speaker series.Morgaen Donaldson at recent CEPA event

The Speaker Series is an effort to expose UConn students and faculty to diversified research content, and engage them in conversations about it. It drew distinguished policy researchers from around the country to present to audiences that included students, faculty from Neag and other UCONN schools and departments, administrators, and K-12 educators. CEPA collaborated with different partners to make these events possible, including the Department of Economics and El Instituto.

Bridwell-Mitchell’s presentation discussed how school partnerships are important sources of social capital as well as how some schools see unequal access to this social capital as a result of multiple patterns in the school-partner network that deter partnership formation for disadvantaged schools. It was an extremely engaging presentation as she encouraged questions, and then lead discussion on how this research could be expanded in the future, thus fostering critical thought.

This type of immerse thought-provoking conversation was not unique to this event, but instead characteristic of all nine CEPA Speaker Series events as they exposed students and faculty to research and ideas from a diverse group of notable academics within and outside the University of Connecticut.

The series kicked off with a presentation on September 27, 2016 from Peter Youngs of the Curry School of Education at University of Virginia’s presentation titled, “The Role of Social Context In Novice Teacher Development.”  Next, Dr. Amy Ellen Schwartz,  a specialist in public and urban economics as well as economics of education, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan Chair in Public Affairs at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University,  presented on the influences that universal free meals have on student outcomes as it reduced the stigmas associated with free meals and encouraged participation.

Before the winter break, CEPA hosted John Papay of Brown University and Sean Corcoran of the Steinhardt School of New York University. Papay discussed the context of Massachusetts as one of the highest performing school systems and the effectiveness of turnaround strategies for their lower performing schools, and Corcoran presented “Leveling the Playing Field for High School Choice Through Decision Supports: A Randomized Intervention Study.”

Returning from break with two February events, the Center for Educational Policy Analysis continued on strong with the Speaker Series as Dania Francis of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst tackled issues of gender and race bias in school counselor recommendations for advanced coursework, and UConn’s own Jorge M. Agüero looked beyond the national scope and presented research on the expansion of the school day in Peru, as it relates to school quality and behavioral responses.

3 audience members at CEPA Speaker Series in November 2016Other events in the spring included an evaluation of READY4K!, a text messaging intervention program for parents of preschoolers that aimed to engage parenting and increased parental involvement and therefore early literacy skills, from Susanna Loeb, Barnett Family Professor of Education at Stanford, and a student-faculty discussion on the influences of race and gender on teaching and learning in tertiary education lead by Dr. Ana M. Martínez Alemán, associate dean for faculty and professor of the Educational Leadership and Higher Education Department at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education.

These highly engaging events, as well as the diversified content as CEPA hosted speakers specializing in all levels of education from pre-K to higher education created an opportunity for students and faculty to involve themselves in research and ideas from sources they probably would not have connected with otherwise. Morgaen Donaldson, Director for the Center for Educational Policy Analysis, commented that,

“The speaker series is meant to bring together faculty, students, and others who are interested about education policy research. Our hope is that these sessions stimulate conversations and ultimately lay the foundation for future collaborations within and outside Neag.”

The 2016-2017 CEPA Speaker Series has surely accomplished this goal, and the Department of Educational Leadership extends a thank you and a job well done to the Center for Educational Policy Analysis, all those who helped fund and run the events, and the excellent speakers for sharing their research. CEPA’s Shaun Dougherty and Morgaen Donaldson, led the effort to create this series, but it’s success is a product of the CEPA affiliates as a group.

Although CEPA has wrapped up the events for this year, the Center for Educational Policy Analysis will be continuing the Speaker Series into the 2017-2018 school year as it really connected students and faculty across the Neag School of Education, and the University more broadly.

For a full recap, please visit the Neag School's website for further information.