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Tree Fruit Production Program,
Wenatchee Valley College

Russell Hamm and Mary Burnett

Wenatchee Valley College (WVC) is a small, rural, comprehensive two-year college serving three counties (Chelan, Douglas, and Okanogan) in north central Washington state in the Wenatchee Valley. It is located in the town of Wenatchee which is situated in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains and along the Columbia River. A second smaller campus is located in Omak, Washington, approximately 100 miles north of the main campus. The North Campus serves 17% of the students of the college. It is the only two-year college of significance in an area of 10,000 square miles with a service population of approximately 110,000 people. The college offers approximately twenty technical programs for either degree or certificate and transfer degrees in Associate of Arts and Sciences (AA and AS), Associate of Applied Science (AAS), and Associate of General Studies (AGS). The college is accredited by the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges and approved by the Washington State Board of Nursing, the Accreditation of the American Medical Association, and the Veterans Administration. The college employs about 750 people in full- and part-time positions and is one of Wenatchee's top ten employers. The college has 65 full-time faculty and 18 administrators.

WVC opened as a private institution in 1939 and two years later became part of the state's public education system. In 1967, the college became a public community college and its district was expanded to its current size. The North Campus was created in 1972 to meet the needs of the students in Okanogan County. The college serves approximately 4,000 students each quarter (2,000 FTE) (see Table A-2). In the spring of 1993, the college awarded 458 degrees and certificates. Fifty-five percent of the students are considered full-time and the same percentage are female. The college reports a minority population of 23.5%, with 16.7% Hispanic, 5.2% Native American, 1.2% Asian, and less than 1% African American. Forty-eight percent of the students are enrolled in college transfer programs, 36% in technical programs, and 16% in basic skills/developmental programs. Sixty-five percent of the students are employed.

Table A-2
Enrollment and Student Demographics for
Wenatchee Community College
(Academic Year 1993-1994)

Note: UK indicates unknown or unavailable information.
Enrollment and Student DemographicsIncidence
Institution's total head count enrollment4,000
Institution's FTE enrollment 2,000
Ethnic composition of students (total population):

African-American

Native-American
5%
Asian
1%
Hispanic
17%
White
76%
Other
--
Percent of total student population receiving Pell grantsUK
Average age of the institution's entire student populationUK

The budget for WVC exceeds $10 million annually and 75% of this is state-supplied operational funds. Of the remaining, 9% is capital funds from the state for facility investment, 7% is obtained through contracts and grants, and the rest is tuition and local contributions. Eighty-five percent of all funds are expended on salaries and benefits. The college has a foundation and it has been helpful in providing financial resources for the Tree Fruit Production (TFP) Program, supplying scholarships and donations such as the two orchard plots operated by the college as a school-based enterprise.

The Wenatchee Valley and surrounding areas are the heart of Washington's tree fruit industry where 65% of America's apples are produced (on 172,000 acres of orchards) along with other tree fruit such as pears and cherries. The major employers within the district are largely related to the tree fruit industry, including more than 2,500 orchards in the immediate area, along with fruit packing and shipping houses, fruit storage facilities, and large numbers of supporting businesses and agencies. Large numbers of trained/ educated individuals work in the industry under the job titles of orchardist/grower, quality controller, warehouse manager, field consultant, field sales representative, and orchardman, and it is estimated that the industry requires 3,500 trained individuals at any given time. Common labor is often performed by the large Hispanic population that has settled in the region over the last 10-15 years. The economic base of the entire region is focused almost exclusively on the tree fruit industry; it is the "only game in town." Since tree fruit are a staple of life in the Wenatchee Valley, there is a strong inclination for public support for anything connected to it. Persons interviewed reported that the tree fruit business has changed drastically in the last few years, becoming increasingly complex and requiring precision and technical knowledge.

Program Overview and Goals

The TFP Program has been operating at Wenatchee for many years. At the outset, it was a typical horticulture program, specifically designed to support the tree fruit industry. In 1984, as a result of the collaborative efforts of several orchard owners and industry leaders, the program was drastically modified, making it particularly specialized for local service needs. Within a short period of time, the full-time faculty member left the college and the current Program Director was hired. Since that time, the program has established a reputation for excellence with growers and managers in the area.

In response to significant industry need, the college now offers two related programs: the Tree Fruit Production (TFP) and Tree Fruit Management (TFM) Programs. (Only the TFP Program was the focus of this investigation.) The TFP Program is a two-year program that combines horticultural science and related agricultural plant science studies with a full range of hands-on production experience. It is basically a specialized horticulture program focusing on tree fruit with direct connections to the local industry it was designed to serve. Students receive classroom and practical experience operating the college-owned "demonstration" orchards where they take full responsibility for all phases of orchard management. The program is unique in the nation and has received two prestigious awards: The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture/RJR Nabisco Award for Excellence in Agriculture Technology Instruction and the Secretary's Award for Outstanding Vocational Program, a national award from the U.S. Department of Education.

From the very start, employers played an important role as the program was created under the leadership of an advisory committee comprised of representatives of several local TFP businesses. Graduates are prepared for employment as technicians and managers for the production, processing, and marketing of tree fruit crops--all jobs in demand in the region. On the college side, a commitment to providing the type of education embodied by the TFP Program is apparent in the college's mission statement. Among other goals, the mission statement appearing in the college catalog states that the college seeks to "provide high-quality, lifelong learning and cultural opportunities . . . through providing occupational courses and programs designed to prepare students for immediate employment or updating skills necessary for advancement in the workforce." The TFP Program is conducted in such a manner as to ensure that this mission is attained for the tree fruit industry. It is designed to satisfy the training needs of orchard owners, managers, fieldmen, warehouse foremen, and managers of related businesses. It provides strong horticultural science studies with hands-on training, producing graduates who are immediately productive on the job.

The program has very high visibility in the local community. It is known for its excellence and has wide support from all parts of the industry. It is the only large and successful program in the area, although smaller programs exist in two other community colleges. All individuals interviewed (including the President, the Dean, faculty, counselors, students, and employers) were very familiar with the program and could describe its purpose and basic operations. Employers considered the program "professional" rather than "vocational"; but, in fact, the program is one of the technical/ vocational programs of the college and is fully integrated into the college's management and funding systems.

In the TFP Program, there are 55 first- and second-year students (Table A-3). Of the total, about one-third are young college-aged students, another one-third are older students in the midst of career change, and the last one-third are individuals already employed in the orchards. The ages range from 17 to 60 years and about half the students who enter the program complete it. Students enrolled in the program are overwhelmingly male and white; however, an English as a Second Language (ESL) Program is being added to attract Hispanic students currently employed in the orchards. The program also attracts students from around the United States and a few foreign nations. Often these students have a strong educational background and several have entered the program having already earned a baccalaureate degree.

Table A-3
Enrollment and Student Demographics for
WVC Tree Fruit Production Program
(Academic Year 1993-1994)

Enrollment and Student DemographicsIncidence
Total number of students enrolled in the program55
Ethnic composition of students:

African-American
0%
Native-American
0%
Asian
0%
Hispanic
4%
White
96%
Other
--
Average age of the institution's entire student population 28
Percent of students receiving Pell grants55%
Graduation rate for students50%
Job placement rate for students100%
Transfer rate for students50%

The TFP Program is funded through the general funds of the college. The budget for the TFP Program for the current fiscal year is very modest. It consists of approximately $75,000 in state funds for salaries, benefits, materials/supplies, equipment, travel, and so on, and an additional $4,500 comes from federal funds. In addition, the orchards, which are used for on-campus lab courses and work experience, generated $30,000 in revenue in 1993-1994; this is projected to reach $75,000 to $100,000 by 1996. Of course, these orchards also account for a major expense in the TFP budget. The program is highly visible and well-supported by the community. It is the recipient of professional and political support, especially evident in the donations of equipment, cash, and time. Also, the two orchards operated by the program were donations to the college by local families.

Key Stakeholders

Students

Interviews with students revealed a great deal about why the program is strong. Students reported the following three reasons for enrolling in the program, with the first being predominant:

  1. Students joined (or were recruited into) the program primarily because it was a very visible, high-quality program with an almost certain guarantee of a well-paying and respected job.

  2. Students already work or own an orchard and need the training to operate it more successfully.

  3. Students already enrolled in college courses were enchanted with the program based upon its reputation and positive word-of-mouth communication from other students.

Annually, the TFP Program graduates 12 to 15 students and all find jobs in the local economy. All of the students interviewed were familiar with the rewards of completing the program. Graduates obtain jobs at salary levels of $25,000 to $30,000 annually, plus a company-owned vehicle. Some students who are unable to complete the program also find employment in the fruit business. When asked if students understood the expectations held of them, a sampling of their responses were . . .

Students carry out a number of professional responsibilities such as attending local professional meetings, learning and working directly in the industry, and learning its unique problems and needs. Performance expectations are presented to students in both discussions and in course syllabi. In addition, there is strong preprogram promotion--students enter the program already knowing that the program is strong and that it will be a difficult program--and that instructors from industry reinforce the need for excellence and thoroughness. Several students commented but did not complain that the program was very rigorous and demanding of both time and resources. They were well aware that for some students it is simply too intense. They also noted that the field is dominated by men.

Faculty

Administrators (President and Dean) were knowledgeable about the program and the trends in the tree fruit industry. They possessed good information concerning the job market for their students. Administrators were proud of the program because of its award-winning reputation and its ability to win resources from the local industry. They demonstrated a commitment to the program succeeding and developing further as a model.

The TFP Program has a lean staffing pattern similar to many other community college programs with heavy reliance on part-time instructors, and the faculty are unionized. Full-time staff for the program consist of one and one-third full-time faculty members. One individual teaches nearly all first- and second-year courses in the technical program and functions as student advisor and coordinator. He teaches 15-20 hours per week and then has all the duties of advising and coordinating, a staggering load for which he receives no reassigned time or monetary stipend. He is very well-qualified; he holds a doctorate and has many years of real-work experience in the tree fruit and horticulture fields. He has also worked as a horticulture research scientist in several universities.

A second faculty member at the college provides one-third load toward teaching introductory theory courses in the technical area. In addition, there are at least six part-time instructors, all recruited from the immediate area. They work in the TFP business in areas such as the irrigation industry, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the university horticulture program (entomology), and in local packing and processing plants. All part-time faculty are knowledgeable about all facets of the business. A close association of all of the faculty to the commercial production business is a definite strength of the program.

Clearly, the Program Director is the "champion" of the program and much of the program's success seems directly attributable to his efforts. In a meeting with the two faculty and three adjunct instructors, we learned that all were very committed to the program and also very proud of it, but each made a point (or two) about the need for continued growth of the program, and for more remuneration for instructors. Presently faculty are not compensated differently for "lab" versus "lecture" courses, resulting in technical/vocational faculty having heavier teaching loads than academic/transfer faculty. The Coordinator receives no compensation for developing or supervising internship students, an activity that typically is compensated with an extra $50 to $75 per student, plus mileage, by other Washington community colleges. Given these concerns, we observed that none of the faculty showed an interest in leaving the program because of low wages. The opposite seemed to be the case: Pride and dedication to the program kept them committed. They agreed generally that there is a philosophical commitment to continue a high level of excellence, integrate the program (applied and academically), and continue to develop the program to serve the needs of the local industry.

Employers

The college reported very strong employer/industry support for the program and this was evident by the large number of individuals who attended a luncheon held for us. Approximately a dozen or more industry professionals representing orchardists, suppliers, packer/shippers, Washington State University faculty researchers, bankers, and community-based organizations came to support and explain the program. Some of their comments were as follows:

The Program Director repeatedly underscored the strong industry support by noting specific activities, contributions, and political assistance routinely provided by people in the industry.

There appears to be a combination of self-interest on the part of the industry and the college for the development, organization, and operation of the program. From the orchard owner/operators and processing business perspective, this program has provided them with experienced (more than typical entry-level) workers for their workforce. From the college's perspective, the program has become a symbol of successful college service to the community, bringing recognition and resources. Employers sought to hire program completers, creating a placement rate of 100%.

Program Components

School-Based Learning Component

Students are expected to enter the college through routine admission processes, and are assessed for basic skills. They are expected to meet all collegewide performance and graduation requirements and pay equivalent tuition and fee amounts. The program occupies one special classroom on the main campus and also operates a greenhouse. Most uniquely, the college, through foundation donations, operates two orchards totaling about 100 acres. Students in the TFP Program spend much of the two years they are in the program working in these orchards. Thirty acres are planted, cultivated, and fully operated by the program's students and faculty. A technician employed by one of the local employers contributes 20 hours per week to the program.

The program is a full two-year program, including two summer quarters. It is 120-quarter hours, requiring the successful completion of more than 20 courses. Students must complete about 40 hours (one-third of the total program) in general studies, with the rest being agricultural/horticultural courses. First-year students are assigned to work in the college orchards, along with normal classroom instruction. Second-year students spend less time on campus and work both in the college orchards, where they supervise first-year students, and in the local industry, where they complete a formal, structured internship. Both faculty and students agree that the program must be considered full-time for students and, while some students work, most do not. Students readily admitted that this program is their number one priority for two years.

Work-Based Learning Component

The work-based learning model for this program is really a combination of two types. During the first year, the students work (unpaid) in a commercial-grade, college-owned orchard which fits most closely with the school-based enterprise (SBE) model. In the second year, student work experiences occur via an internship that occurs with a local employer. This aspect of the program is defined as cooperative education (co-op). Throughout, students follow carefully prescribed plans of study and progress sequentially throughout jobs in many different aspects of the industry.

During the first year, work expectations are very clear, and tasks and duties are made explicit. In a unique managerial arrangement, first-year students are supervised by second-year students, enabling the second-year students to learn management skills required in industry. During the first year of their college-orchard experience, students work in teams of four to five under programs of collaborative learning and team decision making much like the other orchards in the area. Each team has complete responsibility for a five-acre orchard plot. The students complete a series of competencies as well as participate in the management decisions of orchard care. The purpose of the college-orchard experience is to "teach them to be profitable farmers."

During the second year, students arrange for on-site experiences that have been labeled "internships." Each student is responsible for arranging his or her own internship in some part of the industry. This internship requires 8 credit hours, which equates to 400-clock hours, and in some cases even more. The college exercises maximum control over the first-year experience, but much less control over the second year. During the internship, students take responsibility for much of their learning and there may be very little contact with college personnel. The internship can be either paid or unpaid depending upon the arrangement negotiated between the student and employer. It is organized so that students and companies come into direct contact with one another. Companies call and announce job openings for which students apply. Students are then interviewed and selected by the companies. Once selected, the student is assisted by the Program Director in learning more about the company. The student establishes a task list, and sets objectives approved by the Program Director. The new intern reports to and is supervised by one person in the company, and becomes part of the team at the company. He or she is expected to operate at a professional level. The student may or may not actually encounter the objectives since the experiences may be altered on site, the interest of the student as he or she gets into the business may change, or the needs of the employer for assistance may be modified. However, the perception of the Program Director is that most students get out of the experience a great deal of what they plan.

Connecting Activities

In a unique partnership, Wenatchee's TFP Program has created an articulation agreement with the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture at Washington State University. The program requires students to originate their studies and complete the AAS degree at WVC and then complete one and one-half years at Washington State University. Students completing this program must have 13 credit hours of internship (650 clock hours). During a portion of the program, students are concurrently enrolled at both institutions, with all field experiences accomplished at the community college. This particular program was developed at the urging of local orchardists who needed well-educated graduates with a great deal of applied in-orchard experience. University students did not have adequate applied knowledge or experience and the two-year program was able to provide it. Currently, there are more than 40 students enrolled in the program.

A second articulation project has been created between the TFP Program and Wenatchee High School as a part of the local Tech Prep effort. The champion of this Tech Prep partnership is a member of the college staff who was a former counselor. This program, soon to be operating in two additional high schools, provides a career path for students beginning in their freshman year of high school when they take the first agriculture course. Agriculture and horticulture courses are continued each year through the senior year and then the student moves to WVC. It is possible for the student to move on to Washington State University via the agreement described above.

Leadership for the partnership is provided by the high school and the college. At Wenatchee High School, approximately 330 students are involved in "advanced agriculture programs" and of these, about 40-45 are involved in some phase of the TFP Program. Another high school in the region, Eastman, has approximately four to six students in the program and still other high schools are beginning the program. Future Farmers of America is active in the high schools. The Wenatchee Area Workforce Council is also assisting to bring the high schools together with the college. Of the high school students in the program, 40% are female, 20-25% are Hispanic--a much more highly diverse group than is enrolled in the community college TFP Program. While progress has been made with Tech Prep, building such a partnership has been slow. In particular, we were told that counselors need to be trained so they can provide accurate information about the TFP Program.

Lessons Learned

This program occupies a clear occupational niche within the tree fruit industry. It is a very special hybrid, created to serve the needs of a highly specialized local industry. It is not a general horticulture program but one that teaches the special skills for growing and harvesting tree fruit in the Wenatchee Valley in Washington state. In many ways, it is a one-of-a-kind phenomena that is likely to exist only in this particular environment. If there is a lesson that can be learned, it is the importance of understanding unique local industries and being able to create programs that meet those needs extremely well.

Over the years, the program has developed two very important components: (1) a school-based work experience that is overseen by advanced students, reducing program costs and simultaneously providing management experience for students; and (2) an internship work-based learning system that is student self-managed, assuring students get the training they seek. There is extremely strong employer and community support for the program. Employers provide work-based learning experience at no cost to the college or the student during the second year, they provide all materials and supplies, mentor students, and then hire nearly all of them. One of the internship sites has a permanent, paid position for an intern and would like the program to require students to stay a year rather than a quarter. This level of commitment by an employer shows the importance of having a close relationship with the college. Our interviewers revealed that local employers and their employees knew the current content and methodology of the program, the credentials of faculty, the support of the program by senior college officials, as well as the future needs of the program.

Articulation with junior (Wenatchee High School Tech Prep Program) and senior institutions (Washington State University) provides for upward educational mobility from secondary through to higher education. Although time-consuming and difficult to establish, partnerships among educational institutions can be instrumental in providing students with educational opportunities that support a career ladder in the agricultural/ horticultural industry. Through Tech Prep, similar articulation arrangements can potentially be made in other occupational areas.

The program has clarity, relevance to community need, strong leadership, visibility, and the ability to attract good students. However, the program relies heavily on the Program Director and his loss could be extremely damaging to the program. The Program Director was identified by college administrators, faculty, students, and employers as the person who made the program excellent. He was the individual hired to re-create the program and that seems to have been accomplished masterfully. He was well-known by every industry contact we made, and he was universally credited as the reason the program was highly valued in the community. When college administrators were asked what effect the loss of the Program Director might have on the program, they replied that the program would most certainly continue, but that it may have to recover from the loss of the Program Director's personal connections and reputation. Obviously, as the program now operates, the Program Director's presence is vital to its success, even though the college's President stated that the program would continue at a high level of excellence even if the Program Director departed. At the same time, the President noted that the Program Director would be difficult to replace.

Given these perceptions of the importance of the Program Director, we have a very serious concern that too little support is shown by the college itself for the faculty of this program, particularly the Program Director. Presently, the one full-time faculty member functions as administrator, advisor, and instructor with no release time or extra stipend for these duties. The workload is not adjusted for the heavy emphasis on lab courses and credits. WVC provides no clerical or support staff for the program which is particularly problematic due to the high level of paperwork, correspondence, and other requirements involved in operating a 30-acre fruit orchard and engaging all students in second-year internships. The only assistance that is provided with the orchard comes through an in-kind contribution of a one-half time technician provided by one of the local employers. Without greater support from WVC, faculty are unduly burdened with administrative responsibilities in addition to heavy teaching expectations. Concerns were voiced (including from the Program Director himself) that the Program Director is committing far too much time to the program and that "burn out" is a distinct possibility.

In addition to demanding much of faculty, the program is extremely demanding of students. Clear and distinct expectations are made of students in both the classroom and workplace. The college faculty, full- and part-time, set high expectations of the students and the students themselves know they are to perform specific competencies in the field following classroom tutoring. Everyone associated with the program knows what to do, when to do it, where to be, and how evaluation will occur. By requiring more than the normal hours of credit for a two-year program, by expecting students to work two years for no or minimal pay, and by running the program during the summer, the demands on students are very heavy, possibly overly burdensome. This rigorous process acts as a funneling device for the local industry, sifting out those who lack a strong commitment to holding related occupations. Of concern to us, however, is the possibility that this funneling process might also be eliminating students who might be successful in the program but unable to commit an extremely large amount of time to the educational program (e.g., single parents, low-income students). Possibly linked to this problem is lack of women and minority students (especially Hispanics who are highly active in the local orchard industry), pointing to the need to examine student recruitment and selection processes. It is crucial that such processes not discriminate against qualified students and preclude them from entering the program.

Many graduates work in the local tree fruit industry, creating an informal network in the community that works to ensure the program will be supported and that students will get the employer-based experience they require. Many of the workplace managers came from the program and all of the instructors were employed in the local industry. The students are continually informed that if they work hard they will graduate and get good jobs, and this seems to be exactly what happens. Over the past 10-12 years, the program has become a self-reliant and "closed" system with its own support staff, community recruiters, and contacts within the employer community. It has developed a clear sense of mission, a distinct culture among the students and graduates, and a support system from the orchards. In short, it is a system that represents coherence and clarity. To what extent this closed system has also contributed to other characteristics of the program (e.g., the exclusion of female and minority students) cannot be determined. However, we caution that while having a self-reinforcing, closed system has its advantages, there can be serious drawbacks as well, including the exclusion of qualified female and minority applicants. Given that caution, it is also essential that the local program maintain its active ties to the local community, state-level associations, and national groups to ensure that it continues to grow and improve.


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