Tech Prep is a planned sequence of study in a technical field that begins as early as 9th grade and extends through at least two years of postsecondary education or an apprenticeship program. Tech Prep programs culminate in students receiving a postsecondary credential, such as an associate’s degree or technical certificate, thus allowing them to continue their postsecondary education or to enter the workforce as a qualified technician. Many of the Tech Prep classes offered during a participant’s junior and senior years qualify for dual enrollment credit through articulation agreements. These agreements stipulate that certain technical/Tech Prep courses taken during high school will translate into college credit. This articulated credit is awarded by the postsecondary partner after the student has enrolled at a participating college or university.
The U.S. Department of Education estimates that 7,400 high schools (47%) offer one or more Tech Prep course of study. Nearly every community and technical college is part of a Tech Prep consortium and many four-year universities also participate. Tech Prep is specifically geared toward serving the “middle majority,” students who represent the middle 50% of their class, but who often do not qualify for other secondary-post-secondary learning opportunities (SPLOs) like Advanced Placement or state-sponsored dual enrollment.
Tech Prep is federally-funded under the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act. The legislation mandates seven essential elements for Tech Prep implementation:
- an articulation agreement between secondary and postsecondary consortium participants;
- a 2+2 , 3+2, or a 4+21 design with a common core of proficiency in math, science, communication, and technology;
- a specifically developed Tech Prep curriculum;
- joint in-service training of secondary and postsecondary teachers to implement the Tech Prep curriculum effectively;
- training of counselors to recruit students and to ensure program completion and appropriate employment;
- equal access of special populations to the full range of Tech Prep programs;
- preparatory services such as recruitment, career and personal counseling, and occupational assessment.
Tech Prep is a vehicle for integrating academic and vocational content through a “hands-on” program that combines academic and vocational experiences, develops skills for the workplace, provides career direction and focus, and makes a connection between what is taught and the real world.
Although national research findings on the effectiveness of Tech Prep programs are inconclusive, there have been a number of evaluations (including those in this compendium) that have found evidence of improved student GPAs, lowered dropout rates, reduced absences, increased high school completion, and improved postsecondary enrollment. However, these evaluations found limited or no evidence that Tech Prep improved students’ scores on standardized academic achievement tests, and findings were mixed on whether Tech Prep improved students’ postsecondary achievement or labor market outcomes. The last national evaluation of Tech Prep, conducted in 1997, found that Tech Prep programs were not always implemented as envisioned in the legislation, perhaps lessening their impact on student outcomes (Hershey, A., et al., 1998).
Other Tech Prep research finds positive outcomes, but was limited in terms of student population (only high school students enrolled in Tech Prep) and outcomes (only related to success during high school). For example, research from the State of Texas compares Tech Prep students with two other subgroups: non-Tech Prep career and technical education students and general education students. Researchers found that Tech Prep students had higher attendance rates, lower dropout rates, and higher graduation rates with more Tech Prep students also completing the college preparatory curriculum. In almost all cases, these outcomes held true when the researchers disaggregated the data by subgroups based upon ethnicity and special population categorization, defined by the researchers as “at-risk, economically disadvantaged, bilingual/ESL, special education, and all other students” (Brown, 2000, p. 8). While promising, the research did not consider outcomes at the postsecondary education level, which is a key part of any Tech Prep program.
Another study identified barriers to Tech Prep’s effectiveness. In 2004, the Center for Occupation Research and Development (CORD) conducted a survey of Tech Prep participants from high schools and communities across Tennessee. The study found that poor articulation is a major stumbling block for Tech Prep on two levels: high school courses are not academically rigorous2 enough for students to be earning postsecondary credit, and Tech Prep students are unaware they are earning postsecondary credit through their Tech Prep courses. Both of these issues indicated a clear disconnect between the Tech Prep partners at the secondary and postsecondary levels. Some of the findings from the study include:
- Ninety percent of all surveyed secondary faculty and administrators see Tech Prep courses as rigorous enough to prepare students for community college programs, while only half (50%) of postsecondary respondents have confidence in this statement.
- Less than one-fourth (22%) of secondary personnel believe that an unacceptable (“too high”) number of students need remediation when they get to college, while almost three-fourths (74%) of postsecondary personnel have this belief.
- Respondents often noted in the free response sections that Tech Prep students can be successful, but they tend to need several remedial and developmental courses, particularly in English and math, before they can begin college level work.
- Secondary and postsecondary faculty agree that secondary students who take articulated courses are more prepared for college than those students who have no prior college-level course experience.
- The respondents believe that more students would benefit from having more college-level courses available in their high schools. Unfortunately, the responses on many of the other statements indicate that very little collaboration to create additional articulated courses has taken place.
- The top reason for a student retaking an articulated course is that there has been insufficient communication with the student to let him/her know credit had been earned. It is evident that students need more information about how to take advantage of articulated credits (CORD, 2004).