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EMERGING WORK-BASED LEARNING POLICIES AND PRACTICES


The decline in American competitiveness is increasingly linked to inadequacies in human resources, including a lack of preparedness among entrants into the workforce. According to the Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) (1991), too few new employees enter the labor market with the skills needed to fill jobs requiring technical sophistication. Nor do these prospective workers seem ready or sometimes capable of learning these skills (Carnevale, Gainer, & Meltzer 1990). This same situation does not seem as serious for many of America's foreign competitors. Investigations of technical training systems in countries such as Germany and Sweden reveal that well-developed work-based learning systems can and frequently do facilitate school-to-work transition (Nothdurft, 1989).

Researchers (e.g., see, Rosenbaum, 1992; Stern, 1992; Stone & Wonser, 1990) find the need to strengthen the transition between school and employment but caution that a range of transition mechanisms will be necessary to meet the needs of America's diverse population. Models such as cooperative education (co-op), youth apprenticeship, school-based enterprise (SBE), traditional adult apprenticeship, and Tech Prep represent approaches to providing school-to-work transition. However, these models differ dramatically in their methods, maturity, and effectiveness (Stern, Finkelstein, Stone, Latting, & Dornsife, 1994). For example, co-op, a model that has been implemented widely over most of the century, has shown mixed results. Students who have been fortunate enough to obtain jobs after high school or two-year college with their co-op employers have obtained higher earnings; those who have not found such employment have faired no better than students who did not have co-op experience at all. In addition, two-year colleges have actively engaged in delivering traditional adult apprenticeships, especially in the areas of manufacturing and the trades; however, the partnerships bolstering these programs have been tenuous (Casner-Lotto, 1988) and benefits to the colleges and students have been uneven. Unfortunately, little is known about youth apprenticeship, school-based enterprises, or Tech Prep, some of the school-to-work models advocated most enthusiastically today.

In Germany and Denmark, various forms of apprenticeship are used to reduce the distance between school and work as educators and employers share responsibility for work-based learning (Hamilton, 1990). In addition, the comparably high cost of work-based learning is shared by government and business, and each perceives the contribution as an investment in the economic well-being of the country. In America, the situation differs significantly, often leaving youth to fend for themselves in bridging the gulf between a high school or college education and the workplace, creating a costly and ineffective situation for individuals, firms, and the nation as a whole. However, in recent years, concern about the school-to-work transition gap has culminated in new federal policy supporting wide scale application of the work-based learning and school-to-work connecting concepts.

On May 4, 1994, President Clinton signed the School-To-Work Opportunities (STWO) Act. Together, STWO and the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, passed in March 1994, promote systemic educational reform nationwide to improve the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom and workplace. The STWO Act brings experiential, work-based learning forward to play a central role in educational reform. Although separate from the federal vocational education law (Perkins II and the Tech Prep Education Act), this legislation endorses a role for work-oriented education in the nation's reform agenda. A primary goal of the STWO Act is to establish a national framework to encourage states to plan and implement statewide school-to-work systems that can assist youth to identify and obtain rewarding work after completing secondary or postsecondary education. The rationale for the STWO legislation is defined as follows:

The need for increasing the skill level of the American labor force and the job readiness of American high school graduates is widely perceived as vital to the health and continued growth of the U.S. economy. About 50 percent of youth in the United States do not go to college, and only about 20 percent of all U.S. youth get a 4-year college degree. By the year 2000, 52 percent of jobs will require more than a high school diploma, but less than a college degree. However, employers have found that U.S. youth--both school dropouts and high school graduates--are ill prepared to meet employer requirements for entry-level positions. (Training Technology Resource Center, 1994, p. 1)

No one model is endorsed by the STWO legislation; rather, localities and states are encouraged to explore alternative approaches such as cooperative education (co-op), youth apprenticeship, and Tech Prep. Successful completion of a school-to-work program is expected to result in a high school diploma, a certificate or degree from a postsecondary institution, or an occupational skill certificate: "The skill certificate will be a portable, industry-recognized credential that certifies competency and mastery of specific occupational skills" (U.S. Department of Education & U.S. Department of Labor, 1993, p. 2). No matter the model chosen, any school-to-work program should strengthen relationships between the following groups: (1) vocational and academic education, (2) educators and employers, and (3) secondary and postsecondary education.

Three components form the foundation of educational systems (and programs) congruent with the STWO Act: (1) a work-based component, (2) a school-based component, and (3) a connecting component (i.e., activities that connect school and work). These three components are essential to a school-to-work system. The school-based learning component requires career exploration and counseling, instruction in a particular career area, selection of a career major by eleventh grade, and periodic evaluations linked to academic standards specified in the Goals 2000: Educate America Act. In addition, the school-based component encourages linkages with postsecondary education in a way similar to but not as explicit as the formal 2+2 articulation requirements of the federal Tech Prep Education Act. The work-based learning component involves paid or unpaid work experience, workplace mentoring, and instruction in general workplace competencies as well as in all aspects of the industry. Through work-based learning, students should acquire progressively higher-level skills consistent with the demands of a particular occupation. Finally, the school-to-work connecting component is designed to ease the transition from in-school to out-of-school learning, ensuring a match between students' interests and competencies and employers' work-based learning opportunities. Examples of school-to-work connecting activities are support services such as career counseling, professional development of school/college faculty and workplace mentors, and job placement.

The Role of Two-Year Colleges in School-To-Work Transition

Two-year colleges have a long and rich tradition of offering occupational-technical education programs for America's youth and adults. Particularly since the late 1960s and early 1970s, a primary function of all types of two-year colleges (junior, community, and technical) has been delivery of career-oriented vocational and technical education (Cohen & Brawer, 1989). Increased emphasis on the postsecondary level by federal vocational education legislation, changing demographics, greater demand by business and industry, and related transformations in the ways firms and labor markets operate are some of many factors that have influenced growth in two-year college occupational-technical education.

The U.S. General Accounting Office (1993) estimated that in academic year 1990-1991, 93% of all two-year colleges offered an average of 27 vocational programs; nationwide, approximately 43% of students in these colleges were enrolled in these programs. Results from the National Assessment of Vocational Education (1994a) interim report describe vocational education as being "stronger at the postsecondary than at the secondary level" (p. xiii). In summarizing the major findings of the study, NAVE (1994b) made the following statement pointing to the strengths of postsecondary vocational education:

Postsecondary vocational programs provide more structure than their secondary counterparts for students working toward a degree. . . . The economic outcomes for postsecondary vocational students are better than for secondary students. Postsecondary completers are more likely to find jobs related to their training, and even some coursetaking without completing a program seems to confer labor market benefits. These advantages of postsecondary vocational education seem to be most pronounced in public community colleges. (pp. 17-18)

Beyond the emphasis on career-oriented programs for their own students, two-year colleges are increasingly viewed as necessary partners in school-to-work related educational reforms beginning at the high school level. Initiatives such as Tech Prep and youth apprenticeship implicitly or explicitly describe a role for two-year colleges to assist the transition of high school youth to postsecondary education and to help them acquire the more advanced technical and academic competencies needed for entry into the labor market. Although the involvement of two-year colleges has not fully developed with these school-to-work reforms (Bragg, Layton, & Hammons, 1994; Kazis, 1993; NAVE, 1994b), public policy encourages--mandates in the case of federal Tech Prep education legislation--that two-year colleges play a pivotal role in school-to-work reform.

Besides the newer school-to-work models, older, more established work-based learning models such as co-op and traditional adult apprenticeship are already firmly planted in many of the nation's two-year colleges (Stern et al., 1994), offering other means for two-year colleges to contribute to the nation's school-to-work agenda. In addition, many of America's two-year colleges demonstrate experience in partnering with private-sector firms to deliver related programs and services such as customized or contract training; entrepreneurial training and small business development; and technology transfer. The education-business partnerships of two-year colleges that have provided the basis for the diverse array of educational programs focused on workforce preparation may also contribute in significant ways to newer school-to-work and work-based learning programs as well.

What role should America's two-year colleges play in work-based learning, especially considering new secondary to postsecondary articulated initiatives such as Tech Prep and youth apprenticeship? Can effective American-style work-based learning systems be designed without some involvement by two-year colleges, especially considering the increasingly prominent role two-year colleges play in educating America's beyond-high school, nontraditional population? Although recent studies address the scope and quality of postsecondary vocational education programs, little is known about the work-based learning component that may be associated with these programs. Little information exists about work-based learning in two-year colleges, except possibly for programs associated with the health-care industry. Because of the dearth of information about work-based learning in two-year colleges and the rising interest in such programs, a national study was undertaken to assimilate knowledge on this subject and assist policymakers and practitioners in the design of future work-based learning programs.

Purpose of the Study

This study was designed to document the status of work-based learning in U.S. two-year colleges. The study occurred prior to passage of the federal School-To-Work Opportunities (STWO) legislation, so it provides a baseline from which progress on implementation of new school-to-work programs can be assessed. Prior to passage of the federal STWO legislation, little research existed regarding the nature of work-based learning in U.S. two-year colleges, creating a need to describe the scope and character of work-based learning offered by these institutions. Given that, the primary objective of the study was to describe the status of work-based learning across all curricula of U.S. two-year colleges. The following specific areas were examined in this study:

* The scope of work-based learning
* The characteristics of "best" health work-based learning programs
* The characteristics of "best" other work-based learning programs
* Support for work-based learning
* Institutional characteristics
* Work-based learning policy recommendations


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