Career and technical education (CTE) programs at community and technical colleges enroll more than 4 million students a year, and prepare two-year college students for careers in health care, manufacturing, automotive repair, information technology, and other fields. Like other education programs, many postsecondary CTE programs switched to online course delivery during the pandemic, and many will not go back fully in person even after the pandemic is over.

But postsecondary CTE programs do not provide equal opportunities for all students. Structural barriers and systemic racism are entrenched in the CTE field. Research shows white students and some groups of Asian students have better employment and earnings outcomes from community and technical college programs than Black and Latinx students. One reason is the way white students are sorted into fields of study that offer pathways to jobs with higher wages, while Black and Latinx students are often funneled into lower-yield fields. Black and Latinx students then face the added challenges of programs not being designed to address structural barriers, like more limited access to good schools before college and greater likelihood of being poor, which can affect program outcomes like completion and securing a job. Employment discrimination can further limit labor market success for students of color.

Our recent brief shows that Black and Latinx students earn lower grade point averages, complete CTE programs at a lower rate, and have lower earnings six years after program entry than their white peers. And the gaps are worse when programs are offered partially or fully online: Black students who started in an online CTE program in 2011–12 earned less than half what their white counterparts earned six year after program enrollment, even when comparing students who started in the same program in the same year and eventually earned the same degree.

Addressing racial and ethnic gaps for students in career preparation programs is one of many steps that could help offset the pandemic’s disproportionate impacts on Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people and fuel an equitable recovery.

Read the full article about racial achievement gaps by Theresa Anderson and Shayne Spaulding at Urban Institute.