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Institutional Variation in Credential Completion: Evidence from Washington State Community and Technical Colleges

By Judith Scott-Clayton & Madeline Joy Trimble

As community colleges search for models of organizational success, new attention is being paid to technical colleges that primarily offer terminal programs in career-related fields rather than more general academic credentials and transfer programs.

In some states, technical colleges have substantially higher completion rates than do comprehensive community colleges. Yet there is scant research available that compares similar students in similar programs at technical and comprehensive colleges. This study uses administrative data from Washington State to compare the outcomes of young career-technical students across institutions, with controls for student characteristics, educational intent, and area of study.

The study generates three key findings. First, technical and comprehensive colleges tend to serve quite different populations, and thus the analysis is limited to a small fraction of similar students. Second, for this subset of students, technical schools have significantly higher certificate completion rates after three years. Third, the differences in student outcomes within the two types of schools are much larger than differences between them.