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Education and Crime - Vocational Education

programs students positive effects

Vocational programs were instituted and expanded in high schools based on proponents' claims that occupational course work would reduce unemployment, crime, and deviant behavior in young adults. Criminological research has suggested mixed evidence on whether these programs have actually served to reduce individual propensity for criminal behavior. Because vocational education can function to segregate lowachieving students in particular courses either within a school or actually in a separate school within a larger district, many criminologists are skeptical that any positive effects of the programs can emerge. Setting vocational students off from academic students could lead to detrimental patterns of differential association or the labeling of vocational students as "less able" or as "youthful troublemakers."

It is important to note, however, that such negative effects are conditional on the actual structure of how vocational programs are organized. In many European countries such as Germany, for example, vocational programs and adolescent apprenticeships are an integral part of a socially validated educational system. In these settings, there is neither great stigma nor profound social segregation associated with these programs. In the United States, many schools in recent years have attempted to adopt an academy model for their vocational programs, where vocational education is integrated into both academic course work and the world of work: in these programs significant stigma or segregation is less likely. In 1971, Ahlstrom and Havighurst published what became a prominent skeptical evaluation of the role of vocational education in reducing the prevalence of delinquency. Ahlstrom and Havighurst investigated a specialized vocational work-study program designed for four hundred inner-city, maladjusted youth. The program was shown to have little effect on crime rates during student teen years.

Vocational education, however, has been demonstrated to have positive effects on student reports of satisfaction with school and positive perceptions of their teachers. Positive adolescent work experience is also related to psychological feelings of mastery, internal control, and self-competence. Given the significance of these factors in predicting criminality, it is likely that under certain circumstances vocational education can significantly discourage criminality. Recent criminological research has demonstrated that vocational education course work significantly reduces the likelihood of adult incarceration, if the course work occurs in an educational setting that does not concentrate and segregate high proportions of economically disadvantaged youth (Arum and Beattie).

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