Study: Expand Voc-Tech Seats, Don’t Require Lottery- Based Admissions

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Bottom line is that demand for career vocational-technical education outstrips the supply.

BOSTON – State policy makers should address an underlying access problem by expanding the number of seats in Massachusetts vocational-technical high schools rather than changing the schools’ admissions policies, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute. 

“The commonwealth should expand vocational-technical education to satisfy the demand,” said  David Ferreira, who co-authored “Hands Off Voc-Techs’ Success: Lottery-based admissions proposal is a mistake” with William Donovan. “Changing to a lottery system would only  rearrange who gets left out.”  

There were more than 54,300 Massachusetts students in vocational-technical programs during the 2022-23 school year, over 9,500 more than a decade ago. But thanks to strong academic performance, low dropout rates and their success at producing career-ready graduates, at least  6,000 and potentially up to 11,000 remain on waitlists at voc-tech high schools. 

Admissions policies at the schools include five categories: grades, attendance, school discipline,  guidance counselor commendations and personal interviews. The points allocated to each vary by school. 

In 2021, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) promulgated new regulations that made grades a less dominant factor in admissions, eliminated minor disciplinary infractions and excused absences as a factor, provided additional language translation assistance, and provided interviewers with anti-bias training.  

Nearly every vocational-technical and agricultural school in Massachusetts made changes to its  admissions procedures as a result of the new regulations.

But in February 2023, the Vocational Education Justice Coalition (VEJC) filed a civil rights complaint that calls for federal funding to be suspended until DESE prohibits career vocational technical programs from using discriminatory admissions criteria. VEJC argues that students of color, English language learners, students with disabilities and low-income students are admitted to voc-tech programs at lower rates than other students.  

Earlier this year, a bill was filed in the state legislature that would require voc-tech programs to  admit students by lottery if there are more applications from a sending community than available seats. 

The Massachusetts Association of Vocational Administrators (MAVA) counters that the voc-tech students accurately reflect the demographics of their sending districts. The organization also notes that the high-tech equipment voc-tech students use can be dangerous and precautions need  to be taken to ensure that students will operate it responsibly.  

The fact that a voc-tech education is about 15 percent more expensive to deliver than a traditional high school education also makes it important to ensure that students are genuinely interested in career vocational-technical education. 

Donovan and Ferreira recommend that state policy makers expand vocational-technical school capacity and allow more time to analyze the changes made in response to the 2021 DESE  regulations. As MAVA wrote in a letter to Gov. Healey earlier this year, “Two years of data does  not make a trend.” 

The authors also recommend improving opportunities for contact between rising high school students and voc-tech schools. 

“There are certain pockets where we have enormous difficulty spreading the word about vocational education,” said MAVA Executive Director Steven Sharek. “If you have no access,  how are you supposed to increase the number of students of color or English language learners?” 

“Hands Off Voc-Techs’ Success” includes a foreword from Kevin McCaskill, former superintendent/director at both Madison Park Vocational Technical High School and Roger L.  Putnam Vocational Technical Academy, and Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical  High School Principal Warley Williams.  


William Donovan is a former staff writer with the Providence Journal in Rhode Island where he wrote about business and government. He has taught business journalism in the graduate programs at Boston University and Northeastern University. He received his undergraduate degree from Boston College and his master’s degree in journalism from American University in  Washington, D.C.

David J. Ferreira spent his professional career as a vocational-technical teacher, coordinator,  and principal, 16 years as superintendent of a regional school district, and was inducted into the  Diman Regional Voc-Tech Hall of Fame. As Executive Director of the Massachusetts  Association of Vocational Administrators, he advocated for high-quality programming for voc tech districts and collaborated with postsecondary institutions and apprenticeship programs. Mr.  Ferreira received his master’s degree in Secondary School Administration from Providence  College. He served on the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)  Commission on Technical and Career Institutions and the state’s Vocational Technical Advisory  Council and was an adjunct faculty member at the University of Massachusetts Boston, and  Fitchburg State University. 

More of Pioneer on this Topic:

Admissions lotteries would harm vocational-technical schools


Thomas Birmingham and Tim Murray: State needs more vocational-technical high schools


Don’t mess with success of voc-tech high schools


About Pioneer 


Pioneer Institute develops and communicates dynamic ideas that advance prosperity and a  vibrant civic life in Massachusetts and beyond. 


Success for Pioneer is when the citizens of our state and nation prosper and our society thrives  because we enjoy world-class options in education, healthcare, transportation and economic  opportunity, and when our government is limited, accountable and transparent.


Pioneer believes that America is at its best when our citizenry is well-educated, committed to  liberty, personal responsibility, and free enterprise, and both willing and able to test their beliefs  based on facts and the free exchange of ideas.