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As each factor is introduced, we describe the level of importance attributed to it by the research. In part, the level of importance is a reflection of the incidence with which the factor was identified in the selected programs. Rather than listing the colleges where the factor was found to be crucial, we identify each factor in one of three categories, using examples from the programs to support our findings and conclusions. "Critical" signifies that the factor was apparent in most (seven or eight) of the programs; "very important" denotes that the factor was present in four to six of the programs; and "important" indicates that the factor was operating in two or three programs, but, for those specific models, the factor was prominent or essential.
Strong Program Leadership
The first critical factor found in most models was the presence of an individual or a small group serving as the leader(s)/director(s) of the program. This individual or small group was considered a critical factor because it was evident in all of the programs studied and essential to their reputation and success. The leaders were most frequently program directors or program coordinators, and they were low- or middle-level administrators within the two-year college administrative ranks. The Program Director at Wenatchee Valley College's Tree Fruit Production program, the Career Dean at Northwestern Michigan College, the Program Director at Delgado's Culinary Arts Program, and the Applied Business Department Chair at Phoenix College are all examples of individuals filling this critical leader role.
The program leaders shared several characteristics and behaviors. All of them had extensive and sometimes recent real-world job experience, often in the local area. Working in the occupation gave these individuals work experiences and dispositions similar to their workplace counterparts. All possessed a deep knowledge of the field accompanied by an equally strong commitment to the program. This dedication was demonstrated by having formal education and credentialing in the field. The leaders were thought to be politically savvy at working within their colleges, and they were attributed with achieving successes in spite of organizational barriers. Evidence of this phenomenon was provided by stories about the leaders showing how they had avoided upper administration or "worked around the system" to provide some important element of the program. Salary and benefits did not seem to contribute to the success of the leaders because some were well-compensated and others were under-compensated. However, where salaries were unusually low, concerns about fair and equitable compensation in return for the sometimes excessive workloads were mentioned by the program leaders. We wondered whether they would be willing to contribute over the long term. If turnover begins to occur, the "leadership" factor may play a much less important or even detrimental role in the future success of these programs.
In all cases, the leader was highly involved in daily program operations and was seemingly concerned in ensuring that all details were accounted for. All the program leaders seemed to excel at being project managers. In most cases, it was this leader that ensured the high quality of the program, often by setting and observing the same high standards set for students and all others associated with the program. This individual was also the most prominent program salesperson. He or she could describe the program in detail, citing examples and naming successes.
The hard work, visible commitment, and generous donations of time and energy placed the leader in the position of embodying or creating what we came to refer to as the "myths" of excellence through personification (see a later discussion of "widely held beliefs about program excellence"). He or she represented many of the factors that made the program exemplary. During discussions with other stakeholders about the programs, remarks about the leaders and their impact on their programs emerged. Their reputations within the industry were well-known and solid. In almost all cases, it was believed that the single reason for program successes were the efforts of these individuals.
Finally, effective program leadership was perceived by various stakeholders as very important at all times, but especially critical during the first few years of implementation of a new work-based learning program. Programs that were relatively new such as the two Youth Apprenticeship Programs at Rock Valley College and Tulsa Junior College or those undergoing modifications such as the programs at Northwestern Michigan College or Delgado Community College appeared to be more dependent upon program leaders than programs with a longer history. Programs that were institutionalized into the college by becoming a permanent part of the curriculum seemed less reliant upon a critical leader. In a case such as Columbus State's Chef Apprenticeship Program where a critical leader built the program over a number of years, several college personnel and local employers now provide day-to-day leadership for the program. However, even there, careful consideration is being given to continued program leadership as the present critical leader is nearing retirement.
Exclusive Connections Between the Program and its Environment
The second factor was the location of the program relative to the industry it served and relative to other potentially competitive programs. This factor should be considered very important, and it can be characterized as "having a corner on the market." It operates in three ways. First, the program is likely to be the only one in a given geographic area and, if other programs are present, they are reportedly small, poorly operated, lacking in stature, or not well-connected to the industry they serve. Second, the program is very directly linked to the industry group for which it prepares employees and that industry group itself is of importance to the local economy. Further, it is recognized by both college staff and industry personnel that the local and immediate economy is dependent upon the success of the industry (e.g., the Delgado Culinary Arts Program provides the chefs for the dominating restaurant industry in New Orleans and the Resort Management Program at Northwestern Michigan College prepares managers for local resorts and restaurants). Program graduates are critical to the operation of some part of the vital services in the region (e.g., at Delgado, Radiological Technologists fill employer needs in the imaging departments of most hospitals in New Orleans; at Salisbury, North Carolina, early childhood education workers meet the needs of the public schools and other community employers). The recognition of the vital nature of the program is largely an economic impact factor. It was not possible for the research teams to gather data to prove there was a direct economic impact on the local economy, but we were led to believe that, at least in some cases, it did exist. It was evident in the direct need for highly trained employees to ensure the vitality of the industry, and it was apparent in the moderate- to high-wages earned by some students and graduates.
This direct and vital link between college and employer builds in an exclusivity to the programs, and the program completers appeared to benefit from this phenomenon. In most of the programs, students were assured of employment at a salary wage considered desirable in the local economy. In fact, in several of the programs, graduation was not a necessary step for students to obtain employment. Rather, they were offered employment prior to program completion, contributing to dramatically lowered graduation rates for nearly all of the programs. The graduation rates rarely exceeded 50%. However, a 100% job placement rate was documented in the majority of the programs.
For employers, other benefits were evident. Employers were assured ready access to qualified employees. They also acquired more control over the curriculum and instructional methodology than they might otherwise. In large part, the heightened influence of employers helped to ensure that students had the precise skills required for immediate productivity in their own firms. Related to this finding, some of the researchers observed that a small group of employers had virtual control over the curriculum in some programs. We had concerns about colleges maintaining a desirable measure of freedom when employers were controlling many of the decisions about the programs. We concluded that every work-based learning program requires some level of autonomy. Further, we suggested that finding the proper mix of support versus control from business and industry may require extensive experience with delivering these kinds of programs. It was true that some of the more established programs seemed to have fewer problems with employers exerting control than some of the younger programs. It was apparent that over time some of the programs were able to work out partnerships that showed respect for the perspectives and contributions of all of the groups having a stake in offering exemplary work-based learning for students.
Frequent and Effective Communication with Local Employers
The third factor considered critical follows factor two as it concerns the relationship between the program and the local employers. It is treated separately from factor two because the concept of "program exclusivity" does not extend to all models studied. This factor does. Nine of the ten programs studied (Phoenix College's Management Internship Program is the exception) demonstrated extremely close ties to local employers. The essence of these "close" relationships was frequent and routine communication between program staff and industry personnel. This occurred formally through regular meetings and informally as the program staff (primarily the program director) circulated among the businesses or institutions, often on a daily basis. This informal communication was described as an essential component of successful programs. Seemingly, the more that college staff were in the work sites, the stronger the relationships grew.
In strong work-based learning programs, the employers and their related industry groups performed both expected, traditional roles and some nontraditional functions. The expected functions included the provision of work-based learning sites; the provision of information and advice; and assistance in procuring equipment, materials, and supplies. Where work-based learning programs were operational, there appeared to be more resources, often unsolicited by the colleges. Employers and industry representatives who were actively involved in the program saw a need and contributed to the resources to help the program or college meet it. In all cases, employers designated personnel to help supervise and mentor students engaged in work-based learning. In some cases, they identified worksite staff to play a primary role in overseeing the work-based learning component, representing a major commitment of human resources in cases involving smaller firms.
Some of the nontraditional functions performed by employers were perceived by our research team to give impetus to elevating a program to exemplary status. For example, "political intervention," the active participation of industry personnel using influence for purposes of supporting and/or protecting the program, was evident. There seemed to be a network of professionals within the community who monitored and advocated for the program. Often a core group of supporters within the network consisted of the program's own former students and graduates who continued to rally enthusiasm and generate resources. This influence may be used to affect internal college decisions affecting the program or externally in commercial, educational, or governmental settings. The willingness to use this influence is related to the "ownership" that local employers exhibited toward the programs. This factor was evident in nearly every site we visited. For example, at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College (RCCC), the Early Childhood Education Program emerged and has continued to be sustained because of the advocacy of the local public school systems that came to RCCC with a need for teaching assistants. At Tulsa Junior College, the Craftsmanship 2000 program was initiated by a Human Resource Development Director from one of the local manufacturing firms, and the program has continued under the auspices of its own private corporation, with financial support from local firms and the Chamber of Commerce. Additionally, at Columbus State Community College, the Culinary Arts Program emerged and continues to operate under the supportive direction of the local chapter of the American Culinary Federation, a group made up of the largest and most prestigious eateries in Ohio's capital city.
A second nontraditional function is the role of industry as "change-agent" for the program if and when change seemed necessary. The Tree Fruit Production Program at Wenatchee Valley College in Washington was completely renovated--change in director, faculty, and curriculum--as a result of industry intervention. Following this intervention the program grew to exemplary status. Several other programs had undergone this same sort of transformation, including the Resort Management Program at Northwestern Michigan College, the Early Childhood Education Program at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, and the Nursing Technology Program at Columbus State Community College.
Widely Held Beliefs About Program Excellence
Surrounding many of the programs were beliefs held by the stakeholders (i.e., staff, students, employers, community members, others) concerning the strengths, uniqueness, or specialness of the programs. Initially, we labeled this phenomenon the "myths" of excellence because the ideas, stories, and anecdotes we heard seemed to have a strong relationship to people's convictions toward and enthusiasm for the programs; however, these beliefs could not be substantiated empirically. Later, as we learned more about the phenomenon, we associated it more closely with organizational culture. The sharing of myths and widely held beliefs is particularly evident in complex organizations where a high level of ambiguity exists about purpose, procedures, and results. Bolman and Deal (1991) confirm that this phenomenon is likely to be "visible in organizations with unclear goals and uncertain technologies" (p. 244). They state,
Many organizational events and processes are important more for what they express than for what they produce: they are secular myths, rituals, ceremonies, and sagas that help people find meaning and order in their experience. (p. 244)
Work-based learning programs tend to have an extremely complex yet fluid organizational structure where different stakeholder groups play crucial roles at different times. Often these stakeholders' roles in and beliefs about the programs change over time, lending credence to the idea of people needing to share common experiences and accomplishments. Being able to quantify these experiences or perceptions in the form of research findings was of little or no interest to local constituents.
Also, some of the common beliefs about the excellent nature of the programs seemed to be directed toward sustaining commitment. Clearly, it is not easy to develop and implement a good work-based learning program. Maintaining high-quality school-based learning in conjunction with meaningful work-based learning is an enormous challenge. This is true, in part, because work-based learning threatens what is perceived to be the mainstay of community college education: teaching and learning in the classroom. So, possibly, to encourage an ongoing commitment, "myths" have emerged naturally and rather innocently as a means of sustaining the programs with which they are associated.
Beliefs of excellence provide a common understanding of the importance of the programs and the significance of reaching desired goals. While almost impossible to prove, we postulate that these beliefs have a profound impact on program operations and ultimately program success. Examples of the kinds of beliefs recorded by the research teams were that the programs were "the best" programs; that the programs achieved a high-level of excellence; that program completers were of especially high quality and thereby most desired by employers; that only their programs could meet the special needs of the supporting industry; and that competing programs were inferior. In conversations with students, faculty, administrators, employers, and other people in the community, similar beliefs were expressed. They seemed to be passed from student to student, from students to potential students, from students who had become employees (or eventually employers) to employers, and from employers to the general community. We observed that these beliefs continued on their own power and few questioned them, giving them the appearance of "groupthink." Sometimes the beliefs were reinforced by rituals or symbols, another indication of the presence of a strong organizational culture (Bolman & Deal, 1991). Often, the rituals were passed along by student organizations where the symbolism was perpetuated by logo hats, jackets, and mugs which clearly identified the student with the program.
When asked to produce evidence to substantiate the beliefs of excellence, the response was generally "it's obvious." Rarely did local program leaders or any other stakeholders, including employers, produce data to document the claims. This point is not made to suggest that the myths or beliefs were wrong or even untrue. It is to say, however, that "hard evidence" of the sort produced by formal evaluations or research studies was not available. Bolman and Deal (1991) point out that "what is most important about any event is not what happened, but what it means" and that "the same events can have very different meanings for different people because of differences in the schema that they use to interpret their experiences" (p. 244). As long as what was happening seemed to make sense, the stakeholders did not see the need for hard data.
Our point to this discussion is not to suggest that the beliefs were invalid, but, rather, to recognize their existence and speculate about their significance to program operations. For example, in programs where the beliefs were alive and in general circulation, student recruitment was not a concern. Recruitment was by word-of-mouth, often producing an ample supply of incoming students. Students competed aggressively for whatever number of openings were available. In one program where this phenomenon was at work, there were more than 20 students available for every opening (1,250 students were vying for 55 openings annually in Delgado's Radiologic Technology Program). In this example, students took all the general education and qualifying courses before applying, frequently retaking courses to improve their grade point averages in order to be more competitive. College staff reported that, rather than engaging in program recruitment, they focused on providing information to the "waiting" students, apprising them of their status. Sometimes students were counseled into alternative programs when it was clear they would not meet minimum qualifications. When the myths spread to local employers and were commonly held by them, additional benefits were evident. Large and enthusiastic advisory committees, substantial resource support, and strong cooperation for the work-based learning component were evident.
An Effective School-Based Learning Component
A fifth factor, considered to be very important, is the nature of the relationship between the program and program-level staff and the rest of the college. Exemplary programs maintained strong relationships within the college and were, in turn, well-supported by the college and by upper administrators. The character of the relationship is neither unique nor surprising. Programs that operate within the structure of the college as occupational or technical programs and use the student and business support services of the college appear to be healthy and stable. They are usually located on or very near the main campus and have dedicated space for classrooms and labs. Class scheduling within the college's larger schedule is arranged to be supportive of student time requirements. In several programs, the college provided a school-based enterprise where learning occurred in a realistic yet closely supervised setting on campus.
At Wenatchee Valley, the college-owned and operated orchards enabled students to get applied first-hand experience in a formally structured environment. The college-owned child-care center at Rowan-Cabarrus College provided another example of a successful school-based enterprise. Although not owned by the college itself, the Park Place Hotel in Traverse, Michigan, acted as a quasi-school-based enterprise through the generosity of the local Rotary Club which donated this multimillion dollar facility to Northwestern Michigan College. Consistently, we found such facilities to be incomparable in their ability to provide a realistic yet protected work-based learning environment. For new students, an entry-level work experience was provided; for more experienced ones, often a supervisory role was played.
The advantage of locating the program more toward the "center" of college operations is to receive a fair share of resources and greater attention from other internal personnel. College staff and in particular the counseling staff can be helpful in assisting in student recruitment and career guidance. This was observed in the availability of support personnel to assist students with career development concerns as well as in providing remediation for students with weak academic skills. Additionally, it appears that programs located central to college operations may avoid the criticism or jealousy that sometimes is associated with exemplary programs. This may be because the program staff move among their colleagues and are well-known to them, helping all personnel to become aware of the program and knowledgeable about how it benefits the college.
Adequate Financial Support
Factor six is considered critical as it addresses the financial support provided for the program. The provision of required resources may come from local, state, or federal sources, and most of the programs had support from more than a single governmental source. An alternative funding source was the local industry and employers the program served. The nature of this support was usually in the provision of equipment and supplies, in providing personnel to monitor or supervise students working on-site, in allocating space within their own facilities, and in the awarding of funds to support student stipends and scholarships. Additional and significant financial support was particularly evident in the two Youth Apprenticeship Programs at Rock Valley College and Tulsa Junior College. In both settings, local manufacturers contributed several thousands of dollars toward the sponsorship of each youth apprentice, often through the apprentice's entire program of study for two or four years.
One benefit of having adequate and steady streams of financial support is the ability to create an environment where planning can occur and program growth can be predicted. Oddly, the factor of steady financial support for program operation did not always extend to the salaries of the program staff. In several programs, the faculty and program director reported they were underpaid, especially in light of the "extra" duties performed and additional time spent working with the program. The "extra" was not recognized by the colleges in terms of additional financial reimbursement. As with any program, reliable and adequate financial support provides an environment where staff can focus on program quality and not be diverted by worries about expenses, either for their programs or for themselves.
It is also important to note that the disparity in faculty/student ratio between health and non-health programs first identified in the Phase One findings reported in Bragg et al. (1995) were further reinforced by these results. Although only two health programs were investigated, we were able to discern a similar pattern among the programs studied. (The NCOE practitioners on our research team provided additional confirmation of the faculty/student ratios for health versus non-health programs in their own institutions.) In both the health-care work-based learning programs, the ratio of students to full-time faculty approached 10 to 1, whereas the student to full-time faculty ratio in other non-health programs went as high as 100 to 1. Part-time or adjunct faculty were used heavily by both types of programs. Given these findings, it is not surprising that the pedagogical strategies used in support of students' work-based learning experiences varied greatly between health and non-health programs. And, although data regarding the quality of instruction remains weak, there are clear differences in the degree to which faculty are actively engaged in the work-based learning aspects of students' educational experiences.
Innovative Program and Pedagogical Features
Several strategies are clustered under this factor and they are almost entirely under the control of program staff. They are each considered very important.
Create structured individualized plans for student success.
This factor is a matter of creating and delivering clear information for students within the program, giving students a realistic understanding of the steps and requirements for completing the program and for obtaining employment, and creating an individualized plan documenting the steps that students need to take to achieve their goals. Further, students are made aware of the post-program actions needed to advance in a career or in further education thereby linking the current educational experience to a lifelong learning plan. Each individualized plan relates to a student's educational and career experiences based on the program requirements and performance expectations that are clearly documented in the program literature, brochures, and the college catalog. Students are made aware of the outcomes they should expect to obtain by participating in the program immediately, in the shorter-term, and over the longer-term. Additionally, there is a widely held belief that the steps students plan to take, while perhaps difficult, are achievable.
Establish an effective mentoring system.
This factor relates to the individual attention provided through student mentoring systems. This individualized support may be provided by college faculty and staff, by worksite personnel, by other more experienced students, by a college-based system of activities, or by a combination of the above. The activities of mentors include such actions as to address the concerns of the student, motivate and encourage them, provide ongoing feedback, share responsibility with college faculty and possibly others to conduct formal assessment of occupational and academic mastery, and help students feel part of the program. Mentoring is both a guiding and a caring phenomenon. Mentors at the work site are usually formally identified and may carry the title of "instructional supervisor," "site coordinator," "clinical student manager," or "meister." We observed that being a mentor at some work sites was considered an honor, making being a mentor a very desirable job. In some cases, it was an exclusive role because a selection process was implemented. In no cases did we encounter workplace mentors who spoke negatively about their involvement with the programs. In fact, although little formal training of workplace mentors could be detected, most of the mentors interviewed spoke about the job as a rewarding way to assist others to learn. Their comments about the feeling of satisfaction gained from mentoring was similar to what one would expect an enthusiastic new teacher to convey. Such findings led us to reinforce the STWO Act directive to provide strong mentoring as an essential component of work-based learning programs. And, although formal training was not apparent in the sites visited, it seems a reasonable means of ensuring high-quality experiences for students.
Implement articulation agreements from the secondary to the two-year college and to the four-year college levels.
Providing a smooth and logical path by which students can move through the education system from the secondary level to the two-year college level and even on to the four-year college level is important. For the program to have a positive image with students and others, it needs to be more than traditional vocational preparation for entry-level work. It should provide the opportunity for students to move upward either in the workplace or in higher education. Programs without articulation agreements to senior institutions are often labeled "terminal" where students are locked out of further opportunities in higher education. A second very important concern is that partnerships be established with supporting secondary schools. Though only two programs had a Tech Prep component, they appeared to be having some successes with the concept. Highly prepared secondary students were flowing into the programs, creating a smooth pathway from secondary to postsecondary education.
Provide program flexibility and adaptability.
The majority of these programs became exemplary over a period of time--generally no less than five to seven years. Reports from program staff indicated that the programs experienced a period of adjustment during the initial years. These adjustments were in areas of delivery evidenced by offering the right courses at the right times (i.e., culinary arts programs offering college classes one day per week) and curriculum adjusting to the needs of the supporting industry (i.e., early childhood programs modifying courses to incorporate the latest knowledge and skill requirements). Also, time was needed to establish the laboratories and worksite learning environments and to procure equipment. None of these tasks happen quickly or even within a single academic year, but, rather, through a long-term building process.
Mix work-based learning models and pedagogical approaches.
In at least one-half of the programs, we observed that several work-based learning models such as co-op, school-based enterprise, or formal apprenticeship were used in combination with one another rather than left to stand alone. Several of the programs utilized a school-based enterprise in combination with an intensive "capstone" internship, formally defined as a co-op experience. These programs were useful in revealing the particular strengths of the various work-based learning models. For example, we observed the protected nature of school-based enterprise compared to the high-risk features of youth apprenticeship. In addition to the blending of approaches on the work side, we learned about the importance of mixing pedagogical strategies on the college side. Of note was the three-phase instructional process utilized by the health programs where students were readied for the work setting by the reinforcement of theory and practice in lecture/discussion sessions, laboratories/simulations, and college laboratory/clinical experiences.
Encourage personalized documentation combined with standardized performance-based competency profiles.
In nearly every program, some form of student-maintained documentation was used to verify what was learned in school in relation to what was learned in the workplace. In many cases, this was a log, diary, notebook, or note cards kept by the students on a routine basis, but also periodically reviewed by college faculty and workplace mentors. Students reported this personalized documentation to be valuable to their growing knowledge and skill base. For example, Culinary Arts students used it to document recipes they tried in the college kitchen and later prepared in a restaurant; Early Childhood Education students recorded lesson plans they prepared for class and later taught in an actual teaching setting. The documents often contained reflections that students made about these experiences, detailing how changes could be made to improve performance in the future. In addition to these records, more formal assessments were conducted on a regular basis, often using some form of standardized competency profile specifically designed for the occupation. Some of these profiles were provided by a state- or national-recognized professional board; other times, when such organizations were nonexistent, locally developed profiles were used.
Applied and Experiential Learning
There appeared to be universal agreement among all program staff from the colleges studied that work-based, experiential, and applied learning were a powerful method to educate students for entry-level technical work. Students appeared to learn more quickly and their learning was of greater relevance than when in only one venue, whether it be at the college or work. Comments from two independent program directors recommended that students should enter work-based learning as early in the program as possible. It should not be limited to a capstone-type experience. Early work experience helped students to focus more quickly on the need for the technical knowledge and the awareness of where it is used and why. Work-based learning experiences had real and immediate utility to students. Second, early work experience helped students decide if the career choice was a good one. Early entrance into the work site does not need to be as long or intensive as it might be later in the program, but it should be more than a visit and real work should be part of the experience. As students proceed through their college program, a natural shift should occur from predominantly school-based learning to predominantly work-based learning. However, especially with the large adult population served by two-year colleges, real, responsive work-based learning appears to be beneficial throughout the entire program.
Issues Surrounding Learning in the Workplace
As noted by Bragg et al. (1995) and others, problems can occur in the delivery of work-based learning in two-year colleges. Too few sites may be available or fully prepared to make the investment required to accept students. Also, local employers may refuse to accept students due to fears of increased liability risks or productivity losses. To encourage greater involvement in work-based learning, employers need to be made aware of how they are contributing to the local educational system while also engaging students in real and meaningful work. Incentives need to be created to encourage more employers to be involved in these programs. In addition, the personnel of employers actively engaged in work-based learning programs need to be given adequate training to prepare them to mentor students. On the college side, personnel also need training to understand more fully how they can contribute to the programs. Presently, some colleges and employers alike view training as an additional chore, coming when time, energy, and resources are stretched thin already. For work-based learning to work effectively, an organizational structure and supporting policies must be adopted and enforced to ensure the active participation of all the key stakeholder groups.
Employer Preferences for Adult Workers
Another issue surfaced that was not apparent in Phase One (Bragg et al., 1995), but was a recurrent theme in this phase of the study. Numerous employers spoke about their preference for providing work-based learning for older students, especially those beyond traditional college age. They suggested that older students are more committed, more likely to stay and invest themselves in the company, and more likely to have a strong work ethic. Younger students such as the Tech Prep student or youth apprentice, for example, are perceived by some employers to lack a commitment to work. Some employers spoke about poor attitudes and work ethic among these students. Of course, it is important to point out that except for the two Youth Apprenticeship Programs, the average age of students was about 30 years. Consequently, some employers had little experience with younger students, having only engaged adults in work-based learning opportunities. Still, given the scope and depth of work-based learning already occurring in the two-year college environment, policymakers at all levels of government should consider the potential benefits of offering more of such programs to adult students. Furthermore, additional research needs to be done to determine how additional programs might fit with existing ones or with new secondary-oriented programs, especially those establishing secondary to postsecondary partnerships and articulation agreements.
Student Selection and Concerns about "Creaming"
Successful work-based learning programs often had limited openings and a large pool of students waiting to be admitted. This waiting pool could sometimes be so large as to virtually guarantee that some would never be admitted. In some cases, the process of applying standards and criteria for entrance appeared to create an old and disconcerting phenomenon called creaming: taking the best and leaving the rest. Being realistic, many exemplary programs will continue to need to set enrollment limits, creating the necessity to make judgments about which students to include and which to exclude. Selection criteria need to be published widely to encourage their use by all parties responsible for recruiting and choosing students for the programs. (In several sites, employers had shared or sole responsibility for student selection into the programs.) In regard to several of the programs under investigation, apparently little or no empirical evidence was used in the development of selection procedures or criteria. In fact, it appeared that both gender and race were somehow related to student selection since a few of the programs had a disproportionate representation of whites and either women or men in gender-stereotyped occupational programs. Whether this occurred deliberately or inadvertently needs to be addressed. Clearly, if the programs are to be associated with the STWO Act, all persons should have equal opportunity to participate. Even if discrimination was not a factor, program leaders need to establish clear and fair entrance criteria. Policymakers should continue to mandate equal access and opportunity for all students to participate in these programs. Only in extreme circumstances should alternatives be utilized such as some form of a lottery system. However, in comparison to nonexistent selection criteria or sloppily applied admissions processes, a lottery or related approach might be advisable.
Excessive Demands on Students
When asked about the rigor of the programs, often our interviews elicited the following comment from students: The program is too long and requires too much time on a daily or weekly basis. Our observations confirm the excessive demands on time for these students, possibly justifying this complaint. A review of several program requirements found them to demand far more than the normal 60-65 credit hours a typical two-year program requires. It would be inappropriate to criticize the length of the programs without further evidence of outcomes except to note two phenomenon: (1) programs that had a sizable waiting list seemed to require more hours in the program and (2) very few students who enter actually complete the programs even though they do find program-related employment. Given these results, it is important to ask what is driving the need to extend program length? Who benefits from extending the programs and why? These are important questions that deserve further study; however, we urge program leaders to avoid policies and practices that might exploit students. We further suggest that program leaders maintain reasonable expectations of their students and avoid unusually demanding requirements that are not clearly backed by supporting evidence. Taking such measures may contribute to higher graduation rates, a positive outcome for students and programs. Possibly, requirements beyond the scope of the two-year college may also be met with lifelong learning activities. Conceiving of work-based learning as the basis for lifelong learning could be beneficial to all the stakeholders and help to sustain the partnerships over the long term.