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CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS FOR POLICY AND PRACTICE

This study was designed to document the status of work-based learning in U.S. two-year colleges. Due to its timing just prior to passage of the federal School-To-Work Opportunities (STWO) legislation, the findings can provide a baseline from which progress on implementation of new work-based learning programs can be assessed. The primary objective of this study was to describe the state of work-based learning programs across curricula in two-year colleges according to the following:

* scope of work-based learning
* characteristics of "best" health work-based learning programs
* characteristics of "best" other work-based learning programs
* support for work-based learning
* institutional characteristics
* work-based learning policy recommendations

The study attempted a census of all two-year colleges (junior, technical, and community) in the United States as of September 1, 1993. The census design was used to give all U.S. two-year colleges the opportunity to nominate their "best" work-based learning programs and ascertain the scope of work-based learning occurring nationwide. The sampling frame for the study was obtained from three sets of American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) mailing labels totaling 1,036 two-year colleges. On September 3, 1993, mail questionnaires were sent to each of 1,036 college presidents. Following multiple follow-up procedures, a total of 505 surveys were returned as of December 31, 1993, for a response rate of 48.7%. Of these, 51 were not usable, resulting in a final dataset containing 454 cases. Utilizing these questionnaires, data was tabulated, analyzed, and reported to portray the scope and character of work-based learning occurring in the nation's two-year colleges.

First, and most importantly, results indicate that at such an early stage of implementation of school-to-work initiatives, specifically work-based learning programs, many two-year colleges were unable to specify the incidence of student involvement in work-based learning across the entire curriculum. However, data was available from the vast majority of responding institutions in the area of occupational-technical (vocational) education where an average of 18% of students were estimated to participate in work-based learning. In addition, customized or contract training enrollments, estimated by approximately one-quarter of the responding institutions, showed a majority of students (55%) involved in work-based learning. Together, these two major curriculum areas appear to provide the preponderance of work-based learning experiences for two-year college students. In other major curriculum areas such as transfer and liberal arts students, developmental education, and continuing or community education, far fewer institutions reported offering work-based learning and, where reported, student enrollments were much more modest. These findings suggest that the curricula areas that have been traditionally linked most closely with local employers have the strongest foothold in work-based learning. As two-year colleges attempt to expand such experiences to more students within career-oriented programs or across two-year college curricula, the networks and expertise already existing in these areas may prove extremely valuable.

When asked to identify the specific program areas requiring work-based learning, the two areas of health-care (e.g., nursing, radiologic technology, respiratory therapy) and business curriculum (e.g., office management, business administration, marketing) were the primary program/discipline areas requiring students to participate. In fact, of the 58 program/discipline areas presented in the questionnaire, only the area of nursing and nursing-related occupations was found to require work-based learning by the majority of responding institutions. Other programs that were reported to require work-based learning by fewer institutions included child care and development; several health specialties such as radiologic technology and respiratory therapy; automotive mechanics; law enforcement; business and office management; traditional apprenticeship areas such as carpentry, bricklaying, and plumbing; hotel management; electronics; computer technology; and food production. Conspicuously absent from the list of top programs requiring work-based learning were manufacturing-related areas such as metal working, mechanical design, and tool and die making, along with high tech programs such as computer-aided design and drafting, computer integrated manufacturing, and telecommunications. The reasons for the low incidence of such programs mandating work-based learning for students is unknown. However, the authors speculate that there are many contributing factors, including the nation's past economic climate, changes in the ways manufacturing and service industries operate, competing internal priorities of two-year colleges, and a combination of these and other unknown factors. Certainly, more research is needed to fully understand the nature of mandated work-based learning across the various program areas of two-year colleges. In addition, research is needed to ascertain the scope of work-based learning that occurs on an elective basis in which colleges, employers, and students choose to create and maintain learning opportunities that formally link learning in school and in the workplace.

Two key sections of the questionnaire (Parts Two and Three) asked respondents to nominate their "best" health and nonhealth programs based on four criteria: (1) formal structure, (2) fully operational, (3) proven track record, and (4) innovative approaches. The health programs identified most often as fulfilling these criteria were the areas of nursing with 220 nominations and nursing assistant with 82 nominations. Together, these two areas accounted for approximately 76% of the nominations of health work-based learning programs. When asked to nominate nonhealth programs according to the four criteria, 322 nominations were received with the general category of business and office technology topping the list with 41 nominations. Nonhealth work-based learning programs that were nominated included automotive technology (34 nominations), engineering technologies (24 nominations), cooperative education or cooperative work experience (21 nominations), and agricultural-related occupations (20 nominations). All other categories received fewer than 20 nominations. Taken together, these 721 nominations provided a rich database from which to learn more about the features and components of work-based learning programs that responding institutions self-selected based on the four criteria specified in the questionnaire. In and of itself, this dataset represents a wealth of information about work-based learning in the nation's educational enterprise, certainly within the nation's two-year college system.

When examining the characteristics of these nominated programs, results indicate that they were first implemented between 1961 and 1980, with nonhealth programs tending to be the newer, less mature programs. Results also indicate that the majority of health programs place students in work-based learning experiences with medium-sized firms of less than 500 employees; programs tend to use small companies (fewer than 100 employees) for student placements in work-based learning.

Interestingly, the number of students enrolled, whether in health or nonhealth programs, was similar. Health programs enrolled an average of 144 students and nonhealth programs enrolled an average of 163. However, although student enrollments for the health and nonhealth programs was similar, the level of faculty involvement differed. Health programs had a total of 14 faculty, on average--seven full-time and an equal number with part-time status. Nonhealth programs had only three full-time and four part-time faculty, on average. This is particularly interesting since the average number of hours students were reported to spend in work-based learning for health programs was 741 compared to 770 for students in nonhealth programs. When compared to health programs, nonhealth programs may be operating with a similar number of students spending more hours in the workplace and with fewer faculty. This finding raises several questions: How is quality maintained in nonhealth programs relative to health programs? Are there efficiencies to be learned from nonhealth programs that could be implemented in health programs? Without additional research regarding the quality of these programs, no conclusions can be drawn regarding these questions. Nonetheless, these findings raise issues regarding the level of faculty involvement needed to support students' work-based learning opportunities. Clearly, more research is needed to understand the quality of experiences of students related to either health or nonhealth work-based learning.

Evident from the findings were the tendencies for health and nonhealth programs to gravitate toward particular work-based learning models, thereby providing the opportunity to examine these models in greater depth. Almost all of the nominated health work-based learning programs were identified as using the clinical experience model (97%). In contrast, nonhealth programs typically utilized the cooperative (co-op) education model (64%). About 13% of nonhealth programs also reported using the clinical experience model, and a similar percentage reported using an "other" model, often described as internships. Models such as traditional apprenticeship, school-based enterprise, and youth apprenticeship were rarely utilized.

Results from the study provided evidence of how specific components related to the STWOlegislation were employed for each of the models under investigation, providing a glimpse into how work-based learning programs nominated as two-year colleges' "best" may meet this new federal law. Results show variability in the way the models addressed the 22 selected school-to-work components. Models such as traditional apprenticeship and youth apprenticeship tended to have more components such as student wages and incentives for business and labor. In contrast, the clinical-health, clinical-other, co-op, and school-based enterprise models often employed components such as individualized student training plans and job rotation more than other models. Overall, the two models of traditional and youth apprenticeship were shown to employ the STW components more thoroughly than the other models. However, the remaining five models also employed a majority of the 22 STW components under investigation. If two-year colleges are to employ work-based learning models that address the components of the new STWO legislation, it is advisable for them to seek out information about how existing work-based learning models configure particular processes and strategies. Of course, reiterating a previous recommendation, it is essential that additional research be conducted to determine the quality of programs resulting from these various components and models. To judge a particular model superior simply because it employs more STW components than others oversimplifies the complexity of implementation of STW policy. Only through additional research and evaluation will it be possible to determine the outcomes and benefits associated with any of these models.

Findings suggest two-year colleges have the primary responsibility for nearly all of the components associated with work-based learning regarding either health or nonhealth programs. Nearly every facet of health programs was reported to be the primary responsibility of the college, including selecting, instructing, mentoring, assessing, and certifying students. Except for the areas of supervising and evaluating students, components of other programs were undertaken primarily by the colleges. These results suggest that although the learning process may take place within the workplace, it remains largely the responsibility of two-year colleges rather than employers. Employers are viewed as taking primary responsibility for providing a site for learning. In many cases, students are not even paid for the work conducted there, especially for health programs. These findings clearly portray the heavy responsibility placed upon educational institutions, in this case two-year colleges, to coordinate and deliver work-based learning programs. If more students are to participate in these types of experiences, how will colleges manage? Given evidence of declining resources coupled with findings suggesting colleges maintain primary responsibility for nearly all aspects of work-based learning, how can more students be expected to engage in such experiences? What role should employers or other organizations be asked to play to support work-based learning? At present, employers' roles appear extremely limited. Unless their role is expanded, we speculate that little expansion can or will occur with the work-based learning concept in two-year colleges.

When institutions were asked to reflect on past experiences with work-based learning, they perceived that their programs received the most support from stakeholder groups such as advisory boards, business/industry representatives, state licensing agencies, and college staff--all groups with something to gain from work-based learning. Not surprisingly, groups that could view work-based learning as a poor alternative to traditional college curricula or even as a threat to their own goals (i.e., parents, labor, four-year schools) appeared to be the least supportive of the concept, suggesting areas that need attention if the work-based learning is to be disseminated widely within the nation's two-year colleges.

In a related section of the questionnaire, respondents were asked to rate twenty barriers according to their perceived impact on the growth of work-based learning. Results indicate that too few resources (time, people, and funding); too little awareness about this particular learning mode; and too little interest, especially from business and industry, were perceived to be the most serious barriers to the growth of work-based learning. A mix of barriers was perceived to have a minor or moderate level of impact including faculty-related interest and knowledge about work-based learning, curriculum-related issues, and cooperation with labor and other institutional partners. Three disparate barriers (i.e., conflict with other reforms, looking at work-based learning as another name for vocational programs, and faculty battles) were perceived to have very little impact.

Findings regarding perceived barriers point to some serious areas of concern if work-based learning involving two-year colleges is to be implemented more widely. First, respondents express concern about having sufficient resources to employ work-based learning on a wider scale. Previous discussion has already pointed to institutions having growing student enrollments with a declining financial base to support them. Second, obstacles are encountered when particular stakeholder groups crucial to operating work-based learning (e.g., employers, labor, parents, and four-year colleges) lack the interest, knowledge, and/or commitment to sharing in implementation of the concept. Without the active involvement of these constituencies, it seems unlikely work-based learning programs can be successful. Finally, although not viewed as severely as previous barriers, issues within two-year colleges are also perceived to affect the growth of work-based learning. Of moderate concern to many respondents was the lack of knowledge and skills among faculty in work-based learning concepts. Combined with other curricular issues such as a lack of integrated occupational and academic education and lack of focus on careers, these obstacles present internal concerns that must be addressed if work-based learning is to be offered on a wider scale.

Finally, respondents were asked to provide recommendations for how local, state, and federal governments could develop policy to assist with the growth of work-based learning. Without an exception, the suggestions provided by respondents were supported by other results of this study. The policy recommendations called for more resources for two-year colleges; more incentives for business to join work-based learning partnerships; increased promotion of work-based learning, particularly to business, labor, and parents; clearer standards and guidelines emanating from the state and federal levels; and more support from professional associations and local, state, and federal agencies. Policymakers would fare well to heed the recommendations of these two-year college practitioners, a group of educators already experienced in delivering work-based learning programs.


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